Deputy keeps Taco Bell patrons safe on graveyard shift

City Editor and City Editor

Deputy Anthony Thompson stood watch as a crowd of drunken college students gathered around the cash register, loudly recalling their nights.

Some were noticeably more intoxicated than others. It was half past midnight on a Saturday, the time Thompson said the crowd would start to pick up as students made their exodus from the bars.

After a year and a half working as a deputy for the Wood County Sheriff’s Office, and 13 years total working with the county, Thompson never thought he’d be picking up security guard shifts at Taco Bell on Wooster Street.

“When I first heard about [the shifts], I thought ‘why?’” Thompson said, regarding the need for security at the restaurant. His first shift began at 11 p.m. and started off slow, but when the restaurant became packed with drunk and hungry customers lining out the door, he quickly understood.

Thompson, along with his partner for the night, Deputy Josh Augsburger, has been working shifts at Taco Bell since July 2012 as a way to make extra money when off duty for the sheriff’s office. Thompson said he found out about the shift from a bulletin board at the office.

While Thompson works 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., it’s not an average graveyard shift.

“When there are a few hundred people and only two officers, you’re constantly checking each other and thinking, ‘What am I going to do if a fight breaks out?’” Thompson said.

Roughly 5’10” with a muscled frame and shaved head, Thompson, 41, not only looks the part of a seasoned security guard, but has the power to back it up.

One of the biggest fights Thompson broke up was between seven people in the men’s bathroom.

When people fight, offenders are removed from the property. Since the deputies work as security guards for Taco Bell, Thompson and Augsburger do not make arrests, instead calling the police if need be.

While there have been fights, the deputies mostly make ambulance calls to take care of students who are overly intoxicated, Thompson said.

“We’re just here to maintain order,” he said.

Some customers are appreciative of the deputies’ presence and see it as a necessity.

“They definitely prevent violence,” said senior Jesse McMillan, who has been a part of weekend crowds at Taco Bell. “It’s chaos … when you have a bunch of drunk, violent young people in one place, things are bound to happen.”

While Taco Bell may be a different working environment for Thompson, he said it isn’t different from his duties as a school resource officer for the Elmwood School District, where he provides security for the staff and 1,300 students.

Working with kids for the last 13 years is what prepared Thompson for his current job.

“I understand [kids] and their family structures, especially as a father of three,” he said. “Those skills apply especially in [Taco Bell] because when students are under the influence of alcohol, they act like kids.”

Taco Bell has been in contract with the Wood County Sheriff’s Office since 1987, shortly after the business was bought, said owner George Kentris.

The officers work weekends and holidays to provide security and keep the customers in line, Kentris said.

The sheriff’s office also sends officers to other businesses in the county such as car dealerships due to thefts, said Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn.

Each business pays the officer for his or her time at an hourly wage, Wasylyshyn said.

Having a marked vehicle in the area also deters crime, he said.

While there are times when the deputies have to call for backup, not all encounters with the customers are negative.

“You run into some people that are definitely respectful and just want to have a conversation,” Augsburger said.

Talking to people is Thompson’s favorite aspect of the shift, but some customers remain wary.

”People see the uniform and they think I’m out to get them, but it’s not true. We’re here to make connections in a positive way,” Thompson said.

Sometimes, the customers offer to buy the officers’ food.

The two deputies turn down the offers, but are careful to not offend the customers.

“The last thing you want to do is offend a drunk person,” Augsburger said.

As time drags on and more and more students shuffle into the already crowded Taco Bell, Thompson and Augsburger stay alert, looking for signs of any drunk or disorderly conduct among the crowd. Occasionally, a customer speaks with them and the two break their hardened expressions with a smile and a polite response.

“Hey, do you guys know if this is like the busiest Taco Bell in the country?” an intoxicated customer asked Thompson.

“I don’t know, that’s what they told me,” Thompson said.