Food by VICE

North Carolina BBQ Superstar Detained by Cops, Falsely Accused of Car Theft

Sam Jones spent more than two hours trying to clear his name, including showing the cops YouTube videos from his famous barbecue restaurant.

by Jelisa Castrodale
Apr 22 2019, 2:00pm

Photo: Getty Images

When it comes to North Carolina BBQ, Sam Jones is a big name. His family opened the state’s legendary Skylight Inn more than 70 years ago, and in the decades since, several generations of Joneses have downright perfected the art of whole hog ‘cue. A few years ago, Jones opened his own BBQ joint, simply called Sam Jones Barbecue, and a second location is scheduled to open later this year. He’s been the subject of a short documentary, nominated for a James Beard Award, and has written a cookbook that’s subtitled ‘The Gospel of Carolina Barbecue.”

Sam Jones is a big deal, is what we’re saying—but apparently, the Orange County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Department doesn’t know shit about good barbecue.

Earlier this month, Jones was scheduled to cook at the Ocala Culinary Festival, and after flying into the Orlando International Airport, he went to Priceless Car Rental to pick up the car he’d reserved. After being questioned by the person behind the counter, asked to hand over his license, his insurance card, and several additional forms of ID, he still didn’t have a car. Instead, the Priceless staff called the police.

“[The officer] asked, are you Samuel Jones? I said, ‘Yes sir’ and he said, ‘Turn around and place your hands behind your back,’” Jones told The Daily Reflector. “He placed me in handcuffs, locked them and started marching me outside and the whole while I was like, what’s the problem?”

Jones said that the cops read him his rights, took “everything off [him] except his cell phone” and put him in the back of a police car. He repeatedly asked why he was being detained. His questions were repeatedly ignored. He asked again. More officers arrived. And eventually he learned that Priceless Car Rental thought he was a car thief, possibly even the same dude who had stolen two of their cars in the past two months.

“Looking back, it was one of the most dehumanizing things I’ve ever experienced,” he told the News & Observer. “They didn’t seem real apologetic.”

He spent more than two hours trying to clear his name, a process that involved being fingerprinted, a background check, showing the cops YouTube videos from his barbecue restaurant, and even a call from the police chief in his hometown of Ayden, North Carolina. (Oh yeah—Jones is also the chief of the Ayden Fire Department.)

Jones was eventually released, without an apology from the cops or from the rental car company that started this whole shitshow in the first place. “I work with law enforcement all the time,” he told the News & Observer. “I sympathize with those guys, but…”

In February, when Stephen Colbert slandered North Carolina barbecue as “flavor-deprived,” Jones responded to the Late Show host, tweeting that “everyone has the right to be wrong.”

It’s just easier when that doesn’t apply to the police.

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