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Lawsuit filed against owner of Monroe County orchard over remarks against Muslims

Michigan family files lawsuit against Erie Orchard and Cider Mill after claims of racist encounter
Michigan family files lawsuit against Erie Orchard and Cider Mill after claims of racist encounter 04:50

(CBS DETROIT) - A Washtenaw County man who says he and his family were subject to racist remarks by the owner of the Erie Orchards & Cider Mill in Monroe County has filed a lawsuit. 

The lawsuit was submitted Tuesday by attorney Abdallah Moughni on behalf of Ypsilanti resident Joe Mahmoud, his wife, and their three daughters. It alleges owner Steve Elzinga falsely imprisoned Mahmoud and his family over payment for picked fruit and said "all Muslims try to steal from him." 

The 10-count lawsuit also alleged negligence by the orchard for failing to remove Elzinga from the scene.

Elzinga has since apologized and issued a statement on the orchard's website:

"My sincere apologies to Joe Mahmoud, his wife, family, and the whole community for my remarks and actions on Sunday, August 13. I am very sorry. As a family business, we have made a conscious effort to be a welcoming place for all in an often fractured world, and Sunday's incident, sadly, did not reflect that. What occurred does not align with my values, beliefs, and heart of inclusion for everyone. I sincerely regret this and offer my deepest apologies."

Court documents show Mahmoud was visiting the orchard on Aug. 13 and asked an orchard employee about the "U-Pick" area so his kids could experience picking their own fruit. The employee told Mahmoud that any leftover fruit would be at no cost because they were mostly rotten. 

After picking the fruit, the family parked their car at the orchard's common area when Elzinga approached Mahmoud's car and grabbed the fruit from the car, the lawsuit alleges. Elzinga then opened the back door where Mahmoud's 6-month baby was sitting and began searching through the diaper bag.

The lawsuit alleges that although Mahmoud explained to Elzinga he was told they could pick the fruit at no cost, Elzinga demanded that the family pay $58 for the items and "exclaimed that all Muslims try to steal from him." Mahmoud began recording the incident, where Elzinga was heard saying, "Every Muslim that comes here every week steals from me…and that's why you're going to pay," according to the lawsuit.

Last week, Mahmoud told CBS News Detroit he hoped that sharing his story would not only teach Ezinga a lesson but also show that any racism towards any group of people should not and will not be tolerated.

"It was a bad situation, and I just thank God everyone is OK. But no family should have to go through that. No one," he said.

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