Bond set for contractor accused of contaminating produce at W. Ashley Harris Teeter

DHEC inspecting W. Ashley Harris Teeter after man accused of contaminating produce dept.
Published: Oct. 15, 2017 at 7:59 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 16, 2017 at 7:44 PM EDT
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Employees at Harris Teeter close produce department following incident. (Source: Live 5 News)
Employees at Harris Teeter close produce department following incident. (Source: Live 5 News)
Source: CCDC
Source: CCDC
Harris Teeter in West Ashley. (Source: Live 5 News)
Harris Teeter in West Ashley. (Source: Live 5 News)

WEST ASHLEY SC (WCSC) - Bond was set at $100,000 for the man accused of contaminating produce at a West Ashley Harris Teeter on Sunday.

According to the Charleston Police Department, 41-year-old Pau S. Hang was charged with damage to personal property in excess of $3,000 and trespassing.

Police say Hang had been on trespass notice for the store located at the St. Andrews Shopping Center since Nov. 24, 2015.

A report by CPD states the store manager told police officers that the suspect sprayed a brown substance onto some of the produce in the store.

Store employees reported that the substance in the bottle had a foul odor similar to feces.

"Police don't know the type of liquid that was used," CPD officials said in a statement."The spray bottle has been confiscated by the police department's Crime Scene Unit. The bottle and its content will be tested by Crime Scene to determine what's in the liquid."

Dispatch 911 officials say they received the initial call about the incident around 1 p.m.

According to Harris Teeter officials, the suspect attempted to contaminate food in the produce department and the fresh foods department.

Store officials say associates immediately took action and closed down the affected departments and notified supervisors.

In addition, food that had been exposed was discarded, a statement by Harris Teeter read.

"I think it's crazy," said Maggie Laney, a Harris Teeter shopper."I mean I think there's a bunch of crazy people I guess out in the world, and I don't know what would motivate you to do something like that. But it's a shame."

One shopper said she saw store personnel closing off the produce area and other nearby departments as employees worked to deal with the incident.

"I just thought it might have been another recall," the shopper said."But as I worked my way around the grocery store and headed back towards the deli, they started closing off the bread aisle and closing off all the pre-cooked food."

According to the shopper, she was told by store management that an individual had been tormenting the store for a while, and had sprayed feces in the store.

"Before I left the store, 90% of the produce department was already taken off the shelves," the shopper said.

Charleston police also said the produce section of the store has been secured and the produce removed.

"The produce section will be cleaned and will reopen after it has been inspected by DHEC," CPD officials said.

DHEC officials said on Monday that they were told by Harris Teeter management that all contaminated food has been properly discarded and all impacted areas have been cleaned.

"As the material is suspected to be fecal matter, the store has been asked to sanitize as if the impacted areas of the store had been impacted by a flood," a statement from DHEC officials said.

According to DHEC, their staff will conduct an inspection to verity that the requirements of the regulation are met before food is sold from impacted areas.

As part of the protocol it will be treated as if it were a flood situation, something a professional disaster cleaner said would be very similar in procedures.

"Just like when Irma came through and had a lot of flooded houses you have to consider that contaminated water just like sewage water that would come into your home," Disaster Care owner Al Bradham said.

DHEC said the flood protocol would remove the affected equipment, clean and disinfect the area, and finish with a rinse before being sanitized.

"It can be cleaned even though it sounds gross, it's honestly not that difficult of a job," Bradham said.

Officers originally responded to the store on 975 Savannah Highway on Sunday at 1 p.m. for a report of someone trespassing.

The manager pointed at the suspect and said he was on trespass notice from the store and had a history of "frequently violating" the directive.

According to the manager, the suspect was carrying a plastic bottle which had some kind of brown substance in it.

A report states the suspect started to empty the contents of the bottle to all of the produce.

The manager said he then immediately escorted the suspect out of the store with the assistance of other employees and contacted police.

The manager reported that the substance in the bottle had a foul odor similar to feces.

He told investigators that he discarded the bottle in a garbage can.

When police spoke to the suspect, he told them that he knew he was on trespass notice, but stated that the business owed him money and that he was not going to stay away until he was given his money.

Court records state Hang has been charged with trespassing at the store seven previous times.

Harris Teeter released the following statement on Sunday:

Food safety and quality are paramount to Harris Teeter. We were extremely alarmed and disappointed to learn that today, a disgruntled, former contractor attempted to contaminate food products in the Produce department and Fresh Foods department inside our St. Andrews Shopping Center location. Our valued associates immediately took action – closing down affected departments and notifying appropriate team members. Additionally, our associates properly discarded any and all product that was exposed to contamination as well as thoroughly cleaned and sanitized affected areas.
In an abundance of caution, Harris Teeter has proactively contacted the Charleston County Department of Health. The affected departments will not re-open without the Charleston County Department of Health's approval.

The former contractor has been arrested.

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