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Police boost Tyson security following alleged message

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Shelbyville police are providing an armed off-duty officer for the Tyson Foods facility after alleged threatening messages reportedly were made last week.

Last Thursday, Nashville television station WSMV reported claims made by an unidentified woman that someone wrote "all Americans must die" on a bathroom wall -- an act that was reportedly preceded by a fire in a woman's rest room inside the plant a week before.

However, Shelbyville police chief Austin Swing told the T-G this morning that all was peaceful inside the plant, according to the plainclothes officers patrolling inside the facility.

Security request

Swing said that no official report has been made about the alleged incidents, the department is providing an armed off-duty officer after Tyson requested it.

When contacted for clarification about the alleged incidents, Tyson Foods public relations representative Gary Mickleson only said the company "would rather not comment on the TV report."

"We will say that as part of our core values we work hard to treat our people fairly and to make sure any employee-related concerns are properly addressed," Mickleson told the Times-Gazette in an e-mail late last Thursday.

Chief Swing said that the first he heard of the incident was from a call from WSMV, asking about the alleged incident at Tyson, "which I just heard about myself."

He said it was his understanding that something had been written on a bathroom wall, and while Tyson had requested an off-duty officer to patrol down at the plant, "we haven't received any kind of complaint, an official complaint from Tyson."

What they had received was a request for the off-duty officer in plain clothes to work security, adding that the police department is "quote, on their vendor list." Swing explained that off duty officers have worked security at the plant before.

The chief said the security request isn't unusual, pointing out that they get the same type of requests from schools and other organizations from time to time.

No problems reported

The woman who made the claims to the television station explained that she did not see the writing herself, but heard the story secondhand from others.

She told reporters from WSMV that she wanted to remain anonymous to protect a family member who works at Tyson.

The anonymous source claimed a security guard was stationed at the woman's bathroom door after someone allegedly set it on fire last week.

However, Swing did not know anything about any alleged arson at the plant, and had not heard about it until the information appeared in the Channel 4 report.

"First of all, I don't know if or what is going on out there, as far as we know, there are no major problems or I assume they would report it," Swing said. He said it was likely Tyson had a set of rules they follow.

"I feel sure that if they had what they considered a major problem, a problem where the police needed to be called, they would," Swing said, noting that they have called them, referring to an incident in November 2004 when Gregorio Aragon Garcia, a disgruntled former employee, fired a shotgun in the lobby of the Tyson facility.

However, Swing spoke to two of the officers who worked at the facility over the Christmas weekend this morning and both reported that "it was peaceful and quiet and there were no problems."

"They haven't seen any problems or friction between employees ... it was as peaceful as it possibly could have been," Swing said.

Message removed

The written threat was reportedly made sometime this past week, the woman claimed, adding that workers were scared and wondering how the company would respond to the alleged incidents.

Swing told WSMV that it was his belief that Tyson had already removed the alleged message and is conducting its own investigation into the incident.

The unidentified woman claimed to the TV station that guards had been doubled outside the facility and that some inside the plant are concerned.

"They've complained for years, as to why these people are being hired in our food department when we are worried about our safety as Americans, you know, and that's something we all need to think about," she told the station.

This quote was highlighted by a number of conservative blogs that picked up the WSMV story over the Christmas weekend, with most of the headlines asking if there was "a terrorist threat" at the Tyson plant, and bloggers making references to last week's warning about a potential Al-Qaeda plot involving poisoned food.

A number of the blogs featured links to previous articles about controversies surrounding Tyson Foods and the employment of refugees at the facility, with unfounded accusations directed at Shelbyville's Somali population over the alleged threat.

Many of the web sites also referred to the 2008 flap over the Shelbyville facility replacing Labor Day as a paid holiday with the Muslim celebration Eid al Fitr, in an apparent attempt to link the two incidents.

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