Eric Sparkes has come forward as the man accused of telling a Georgia lawmaker to “go back” to where she came from during a confrontation in the express checkout lane of an Atlanta-area Publix grocery store. Sparkes has admitted to getting into an argument with Democratic State Representative Erica Thomas — and said he did call her a b*tch — but has denied telling her to go back to where she came from, a slur that has been in the spotlight after similar comments by President Donald Trump directed at four freshmen congresswomen.
Thomas went viral on July 20 after making her accusation about the July 19 incident on Twitter a day earlier. She wrote in the tweet, “Today I was verbally assaulted in the grocery store by a white man who told me I was a lazy SOB and to go back to where I came from bc I had to many items in the express lane. My husband wasn’t there to defend me because he is on Active Duty serving the country I came from USA!”
Thomas, who is pregnant, said her 9-year-old child was also in the store with her. The 31-year-old Thomas has represented Georgia’s 39th district since 2014 and she is also the founder of a non-profit, Speak Out Loud, dedicated to giving a voice to foster children.
The 56-year-old Sparkes came forward on July 20 to present his side of the story and got into a second confrontation with Thomas, this time outside of the Publix store and in front of local news cameras. The original incident was possibly recorded on store surveillance cameras, but without audio. It does not seem that any footage of the incident with audio exists.
He wrote on Facebook, “Ms Thomas unfortunately doesn’t want to take any responsibility for her aggressive behavior in front of her own daughter by taking confrontational steps towards me inside Publix after only wanting to point out she she [sic] was in the express with too many items. I’ve taken responsibility for using a foul word. The foul word would have never occurred if Ms Thomas had not initiated aggression. Just as Ms Thomas showed her aggression during my interview with the local news.”
Sparkes told the news stations that he is a Democrat. He has posted on Facebook in the past about his view that comments like “go back to where you came from” are racist. He told the news cameras, “”his woman is playing the victim for political purposes because she is a state legislator,” Sparkes said. “I’m a Democrat and will vote Democrat for the rest of my life, so call me whatever you want to believe. For her political purposes, make it black, white, brown, whatever. It is untrue.”
Publix issued a statement saying, “At Publix we are committed to creating a safe and welcoming shopping experience for all our customers. We are cooperating with local law enforcement as they look into the matter.” Local police have not commented.
Sparkes and Thomas could not be reached for comment by Heavy.
Here’s what you need to know about Eric Sparkes:
1. Eric Sparkes Said Erica Thomas Lied About What Happened, Saying, ‘I Called You a Lazy B*tch … That’s the Worst Thing I Said’
The incident between State Representative Erica Thomas and Eric Sparkes occurred at a Mableton, Georgia, Publix store in Cobb County, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. After the July 19 incident, Thomas posted a tearful 12-minute video on Facebook about what she said happened, along with the caption, “I’m about to be very transparent because this racism and hate is getting out of control! I feared for my life!”
Thomas said in the video, “This white man comes up to me and says, ‘You lazy son of (expletive). You need to go back where you came from.’ Sir, you don’t even know me. I’m not lazy. I’m nine months pregnant.” She later added, “Yes, I had 15 items but I’m nine months pregnant, and I can’t stand up for long.”
The video had gone viral by July 20, with celebrities, activists and other politicians sharing it on social media and calling on something to be done, many putting blame for what happened on President Donald Trump and his supporters, who have used similar rhetoric about sending people back to where they came from in recent weeks. Thomas’ name and #StandWithErica were trending on Twitter.
Thomas later told WSB-TV, “I don’t want to say he said, ‘Go back to your country,’ or ‘Go back to where you came from.’ But he was making those types of references is what I remember.”
You can watch Thomas’ video below:
On Saturday, July 20, Thomas was being interviewed by local news stations outside of the Publix store where the original incident occurred when Eric Sparkes appeared to reveal his identity and give his side of what happened. Thomas and Sparkes then got into another confrontation, which you can watch below:
Sparkes said he came to the store to speak to the manager and saw TV cameras in the parking lot and decided to speak to them. Sparkes told the news stations, “This woman was in the express lane that says ’10 items or less’ two other lanes completely free open. I go pay for my three items in one of the other lanes. It frustrated me to see her there with that many items, she had about 20 items, so that frustrated me. I went to the customer associates at Publix and talked to them by the front door.” He said he asked if anything could be done and the employee told him, “Well it’s not Publix’s policy, we’re not allowed to confront any customers about the express lane, but a customer can.” Sparkes said he thought about it and almost walked out, but then came back in and went up to Thomas. He said he didn’t know her name or that she was a legislator. As Sparkes was explaining to the news reporters what he says happened, Thomas intervened.
“You don’t get a spotlight, you don’t get anything at all,” Thomas said, stepping in front of Sparkes and the cameras. “You degraded me and you berated me and everybody needs to see. And what you did to me as a woman who is nine months pregnant and you think you’re going to get away with.” Sparkes interjected, “good luck mam,” as Thomas told him, “you are going to jail. This speaks for every black, brown and every woman who is out there who is nine months pregnant, and a white man comes up to you and calls you a son of a…”
Sparkes again interjected, telling Thomas, “I’m not white.” She responded, “I don’t care what you are, yes you are.” Thomas, standing next to Sparkes, said, “I am facing the man that degraded me and berated me and I’m not crying. No I’m not. I’m standing right in front of you and if you know how you made me feel yesterday…”
Sparkes, with the cameras rolling, told Thomas to back off or he would call the police. Thomas encouraged him to call the police, saying they are looking for him. Sparkes responded that he had already talked to them.
“Everybody needs to see this man who did to me and he thinks he gets a five minutes of fame?” Thomas said. “You think you’re going to come up here and get a spotlight. No you’re not. The only spotlight you’re going to get is everybody needs to see the man that did this to a woman that’s nine months pregnant.”
After Thomas asked Sparkes if he felt bad, he responded, “Do you understand that you’re a liar?” When she asked what she lied about, Sparkes said, “Everything that happened. Me telling to go back where you came from. Did I say that? Did I say it? Is it on video? I called you a lazy b-i-t-c-h. That’s the worst thing I said.”
Sparkes said, “I am Cuban, I am not white. I am light, but I am Cuban. I was raised with a Cuban grandmother who did not speak any English in the late 60s and 70s. I felt racism and prejudice. I’m not playing this victim. This woman, Ms. Thomas, is playing the victim because she is a state legislator. I am a Democrat No. 1, I vote Democrat No. 2. My Facebook, I will make it public, all my statements are anti-Trump, anti-Republican, anti-Racism, anti-bigotry. This lady does not know me. She’s using this to get on camera for political purposes without contacting me.”
He said the worst thing he called her was a “selfish, little b-i-t-c-h. Selfish.” He added, “I might regret saying that, but for her to be confronting me, after trying to point out, ‘you’re in a 10 item express lane’ and for her to say ‘I don’t give a crap.’ She didn’t give a crap. As a human being and a legislator, we need humans that represent us, that will stand up for the little person and not be selfish.”
Sparkes said, “it was only about her personally. I’m Hispanic, I don’t care what she thinks. She’s doing it for political purposes. … I’ve never used those terms, I’m disgusted with those terms. I’m tired of selfishness and rudeness. If we all do not stand up to people who are rude, it just keeps on continuing and continuing and continuing through society. She blew it out of proportion. … I don’t like using foul language, it’s not me.”
2. He Has Made Several Anti-Trump Comments on Facebook, Including Saying Trump’s Comments Telling Congresswomen to ‘Go Back’ Were Racist
Eric Sparkes has previously made anti-Trump posts on his Facebook page, including recent posts about a Trump supporter who did tell someone to go back to Puerto Rico. Sparkes wrote in a post sharing a news article about the incident, “For the Trumpers I grew up with this is the hidden and outright vocal bigotry, ignorance and racism I experienced at times because my grandmother did not speak English, only Spanish. So my anger comes out, FU all racists and to the ones that say you aren’t racist you are lying to yourselves.”
In another post, Sparkes said Trump, “needs to go back to Germany and his Nazi roots,” while referencing the president’s comments about congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. He quoted Trump saying, “These people that hate our country. They hate our country. They hate it, I think, with a passion,” and responded, with his own comment, “No they hate how you sow discord and hate. And, what you are doing to our values. They don’t hate our country they hate you.”
Sparkes also wrote a post about Trump’s “both sides” Charlottesville comment, saying, “‘There are good people on both sides.’ So being a white supremacist is a good thing then?”
On July 17, Sparkes wrote a post starting with, “Trump!!! This is from EEOC rules,” along with a section about ethnic slurs and other verbal or physical conduct because of nationality being illegal in the workplace.
3. Sparkes, Who Previously Owned a Restaurant, Works as a Technical Support Analyst
Eric Sparkes previously owned a restaurant, called Your Diner, in Woodstock, Georgia, that is now closed, according to his Facebook page.
On Linkedin, Sparkes says he is a technical support analyst and has also worked in warehouse management.
4. Sparkes, Who Says He Is Cuban, Is a Delaware Native & Attended Florida International University
Sparkes said during the confrontation outside of the Publix in front of news cameras that he is Cuban, using that as part of his claim that he would not tell Thomas to “go back.” He has posted previously on Facebook about his Cuban heritage and growing up in a family where some relatives only spoke Spanish.
According to his Facebook page, Sparkes is originally from Newark, Delaware. He is a graduate of Florida International University and he spent several years living in Miami. He has lived in Georgia since 2005, spending time in Norcross, Atlanta and now Mableton, where the confrontation with Thomas occurred.
In an email to Laura Pozen of WSB-TV, Sparkes said, “I am the supposed racist customer that spoke to Ms. Thomas at publix yesterday. I found out that it is all over the internet. Ms. Thomas is playing the victim over something that she caused by her reaction from me asking about her being in the express 10 item or less lane with over 20 items. Her reaction immediately was condemnation and attacking me verbally by saying it wasn’t my business. I NEVER ONCE TOLD HER TO GO BACK TO WHATEVER. I am Cuban and I have felt predudice [sic] racism as a child. Noone that knows me personally would ever believe I would say such a mean thing. She assumes because I am white that it’s about race. This woman is her own worst own enemy….”
5. Thomas Said on Twitter That Sparkes ‘Sounds Like a Coward’ & Says She Has ‘Witnesses That Will Testify’
On Sunday, July 21, Erica Thomas tweeted, “So Eric Sparkes admits to approaching me and verbally assulting [sic] me in front of my 9 year and but not the rest of his statements. You sounds like a coward to me and that’s fine you will think twice before you berate any one again!You keep lying we have witnesses that will testify!”
Gerald Griggs, an attorney for the NAACP of Georgia, tweeted, “swe are currently investigating and I was shocked by the video that was posted by Rep. Thomas about what allegedly happened in the
@Publix. We are requesting they release the tapes and witness statements immediately.”
While Thomas still has many supporters on social media and is standing by her account of what happened, some have tried to turn the story on her, calling her a liar and saying she made up the story, calling it a “hate hoax.”
“Raising money on fabricated stories, lies and false narratives. Just business as usual for the Georgia Democrat Party and those they put in office,” the Georgia GOP tweeted.
The Georgia Democratic Party has not backed down, tweeting in response, “Let’s be extremely clear:
@GaRepublicans have stuck with Trump day in and day out, from putting children in cages to racist attacks against their fellow Americans. They have no ground to stand on. #gapol #WeStandWithErica.”