When Jeremy Dufresne went into a branch of Dunkin’ Donuts in Syracuse, New York, all he wanted to do was charge his phone. But a member of staff wasn’t happy to see the homeless man on the premises. More than simply asking him to leave, however, the Dunkin’ employee instead assaulted the man.
When Dufresne was a kid, he would dream of becoming an artist. But throughout his early years he seemed to be confronted by one hurdle after another. According to his mother, Bobbie Jo Richardson, everything started to go wrong on the day he was born.
According to Richardson, her son’s brain was starved of oxygen as she was giving birth. This affected him both physically and mentally, and led to Dufresne growing up with epilepsy as well as enduring learning difficulties. But that was just the beginning of his troubles.
It wasn’t long before Dufresne suffered his next major blow. When he was just two years old, his father was involved in a life-changing motorcycle accident. His injuries were so severe that he spent the next 12 years in a coma, before passing away in a nursing home when Dufresne was 14.
Growing up, Dufresne developed a love of drawing. But his boyhood dream of becoming an artist was short-lived. Learning difficulties meant high school was a struggle. On top of that, his aunt claims he was picked on and bullied. The upshot of all this was that Dufresne quit before graduation.
Today, Dufresne has mental health issues. He told Syracuse.com that he has schizophrenia, a claim supported by members of his family. What’s more, it’s not unusual for people who sleep rough to suffer from mental illnesses. In fact, national data suggests such difficulties have been identified in around one in three homeless people.
Dufresne enjoys the support of his family, but he simply prefers to live outdoors. He regularly visits his mom and his aunt, Betty Jo Craven, both of whom help him as much as they can. But despite their best efforts, he feels he can’t be indoors.
Richardson has pleaded with her son to get a roof over his head – but her words have fallen on deaf ears. While working out of town in recent years, she learned Dufresne had been sleeping outside a church. Once again, though, she couldn’t encourage him to come and live with her.
Even when she did once succeed in tempting her son home, it didn’t last. Dufresne tried staying for a short while, but the experience didn’t appeal to him and he returned to the streets. According to him, he likes it better that way. “I look forward to the afternoon, when it’s warm,” he told Syracuse.com. So he does what he can to get by.
Much of the time Dufresne will grab a meal from a local Samaritan Center. But often he will stop in a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts cafe, usually just for warmth and to power up his phone. That’s precisely where he had been on the evening of September 30, 2018.
Dufresne had stopped by the Dunkin’ outlet on North Salina Street to put his phone on charge. He wanted to call his mom before she went to bed, as per his nightly routine. By all accounts, up to that point staff at the cafe hadn’t minded him coming inside. Indeed, sometimes they’d even offer him food or something to drink.
It seems so long as Dufresne didn’t bother any of the customers, then Dunkin’ employees had no problem with him being there. And likely he was more than fine with that. But on this occasion somebody took exception to his presence.
On this particular Sunday night in early fall, a member of staff approached Dufresne as he sat on a bench with his phone on charge. Dufresne had placed his head on the table as he waited – an action that the employee had spotted. A second staff member captured what followed on his cell phone.
On the footage, the Dunkin’ crew member can be seen carrying a pitcher of water. He approaches Dufresne from behind, the homeless man’s head still resting on the table. Was the employee about to offer Dufresne a drink? On this occasion, no. This time he had something else in store.
“You want to sleep?” the staff member asks. Then, without warning, he dumps the pitcher of cold water over the resting man, who quickly stands up and gathers his phone and charger. Another employee can be heard laughing as the senseless act unfolds.
On the video, the perpetrator can be heard saying, “How many times I got to tell you to stop sleeping in here? You here all day, you have enough time [in here]. How many times have the customers and the people going to tell you to stop sleeping in here?” The man then says if Dufresne leaves then he won’t call the police.
Although it’s not known who originally posted the video, it was picked up by Syracuse resident Sam Breazeale, who claims to have copied it from Facebook. Within two days of the episode, Breazeale’s post had received more than three million views, and many had something to say about it.
The following day, the Dunkin’ outlet had turned into a scene of activism. Some people called for a boycott of the store, while protestors gathered onsite. A number of representatives from the homeless support group We Rise Above The Street approached the manager appealing for those responsible for the attack to be sacked.
The Dunkin’ restaurant in Syracuse is owned and operated by franchise network The Wolak Group. The group’s chief operating officer, Kimberly Wolak, said, “We were extremely disturbed by the behavior of our employees captured in the video.” Though never named, the perpetrator and some other employees subsequently lost their jobs.
Meanwhile, despite his difficulties, Dufresne retained a pragmatic air. Speaking about the Dunkin’ staff member, he told Syracuse.com, “He probably had some personal problems of his own and needed someone to talk to. [But] he took it out on someone else, like me.” As for The Wolak Group, it said it would work to ensure staff understood how best to accommodate homeless customers in future.