A Connecticut man was charged after authorities said he hurled a drink and an anti-immigrant insult at employees in a local smoothie shop, whom he blamed for a serious allergic reaction that sent his son to the hospital.
Fairfield police alleged that the man, James Iannazzo, a 48-year-old financial adviser who worked for Merrill Lynch, returned to a Robeks Fresh Juices & Smoothies location Saturday after his son had an allergic reaction and berated staff members, demanding that they tell him who put peanut butter in the boy's drink.
"When employees could not provide Iannazzo with the answer he became irate, yelling at the employees using a number of expletives," police said. "He then threw a drink at an employee, which hit their right shoulder."
Police also said Iannazzo "made comments toward an employee referencing their immigration status." Authorities said he continued to yell at the employees and tried to open a door to the Robeks "employee only" area after he was asked to leave multiple times.
Iannazzo, who left the store before authorities could arrive, turned himself into police later. He was charged with intimidation based on bigotry or bias, breach of peace and criminal trespassing.
Charli Hill, 17, said she was called to come in early on Saturday because their store was busy. She said she hadn’t interacted with Iannazzo when he first arrived.
Speaking generally, Hill said that there are options when ordering either on an app or in person to alert the staff of an allergy, then staff would follow protocols to avoid direct or cross contamination. Hill did not make Iannazzo’s drink and couldn’t speak to how it was made or what ingredients were used, as she had only just arrived when it was made.
"He just said no peanuts in it, but if you don’t say you have a nut allergy — which is an option on the app and in person — we use different stuff if there’s a nut allergy … so he didn’t tell us he had an allergy," Hill said.
When Iannazzo returned to the store, he was aggressive and immediately began yelling at the staff, Hill said. At first the team of teenagers was respectful, she said, but the situation escalated.
"He was like, 'I'll be waiting for you guys when you get off of work,'" Hill said. "He kept threatening us. He kept trying to get into the door, saying racial slurs."
Hill began recording him after she said he had already threatened them and made several insults. One of the newer employees called 911 while Hill's friend and co-worker confronted Iannazzo.
Iannazzo directed what Hill described as racial slurs, including an "immigrant loser" comment in the recording, at her co-worker. Hill said she thinks the situation has put a mental toll on the girl.
"She portrays herself to be okay but I know she’s not, and that she’s really upset," Hill said. "And everything right now with him saying he’s not racist, but it really takes a toll."
Hill posted her recording to TikTok, where she had a small following, because she knew the app had the power to spread awareness. But the video was taken down and her account was temporarily suspended.
"They really hurt me, because I thought it was extremely important to me and my friends and my co-workers," Hill said. "I wanted it to be known and I wanted justice for my friend."
TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment on removing the video.
But screen recordings of the video still circulated on social media over the weekend, even after Hill's account was suspended. One clip posted to Twitter has been viewed more than 2 million times.
Iannazzo's attorney, Frank Riccio, said in a statement Sunday morning that Iannazzo "wholeheartedly regrets the incident." Riccio added that Iannazzo stressed to staff members that his drink should not contain peanut butter, because his son had a life-threatening allergy.
"When faced with a dire situation for his son, Mr. Iannazzo’s parental instinct kicked in and he acted out of anger and fear," Riccio said. "He is not a racist individual and deeply regrets his statements and actions during a moment of extreme emotional stress."
Employees told police that Iannazzo did ask for his drink to be made without peanut butter but made no mention of an allergy.
Merrill Lynch confirmed that Iannazzo no longer works as a financial adviser with the company after the incident.
"Our company does not tolerate behavior of this kind," the company said in a statement Sunday. "We immediately investigated and have taken action. This individual is no longer employed at our firm."