3rd suit filed against Hereford House, as worker who allegedly tainted food asks for release

An Arkansas couple who fell ill after eating at the Hereford House in Leawood are the latest customers to sue the restaurant, contending it was negligent and should be held liable for serving contaminated food to customers.

Blair and Dawn Hawkins filed the lawsuit Thursday in Johnson County District Court against the Hereford House Restaurant Company of Kansas Inc.

The lawsuit is the third one to be filed against the Hereford House since the Johnson County District Attorney in late April charged 21-year-old Jace Christian Hanson of Kansas City with one felony count of unlawfully adulterating or contaminating food while working at the restaurant at 5001 Town Center Drive in Leawood’s Town Center Plaza.

Hanson allegedly posted videos on a website under the username of “Vandalizer” that showed a man urinating in restaurant-style food bins and rubbing food on his genitals and buttocks, according to court documents.

Court documents allege the crime occurred between March 26 and April 25, but the Hereford House narrowed the timeline to April 6 and 23, based on Hanson’s statement to police.

Hanson allegedly told detectives that he contaminated food in more than 20 incidents.

The Hawkinses contend they ate at the Hereford House in Leawood around 6:30 p.m. on April 24. The following morning, Blair Hawkins fell ill and began vomiting and having diarrhea. That afternoon, Dawn Hawkins experienced nausea and had cramps. Both of their illnesses were consistent with food poisoning.

They contend that after becoming aware of the alleged contamination of food, they have suffered additional emotional and psychological distress. They continue to fear the possibility of future illness due to eating contaminated food.

The lawsuit is similar to those filed by Chad Christopher of Clay County and McHarlan and Barbara Bishop of Jackson County, who claim they fell ill after eating at the restaurant. The lawsuits claims Hereford House was negligent and breached an implied warranty that their food would be safe. The lawsuits also contain a strict liability claim alleging the contaminated food is a defective product.

Hanson seeks to be released from jail

A tip to the Federal Bureau of Investigation led to the discovery of the alleged crime. A special agent allegedly tied the videos posted online to Hanson’s cellphone.

Leawood detectives went to the restaurant on April 25 and spoke with a manager. They then asked Hanson, who was working at the restaurant, if he was aware of any food contamination.

”I’ll just be straight up, yeah,” Hanson said, according to the affidavit. He added that he’d “just been doing stupid s--t.”

Hanson was arrested that afternoon and booked into Johnson County jail, where he is currently being held on $100,000 bond.

On Thursday, Hanson’s attorney filed a motion asking that Hanson’s bond be modified so that he would be released on his own recognizance or be granted a “substantial reduction” in the bond. Hanson’s current bond “is excessive for the crimes charged,” his lack of criminal history and the absence of evidence that he is a flight risk, according to the filing.

If released, Hanson would live with his mother near Casper, Wyoming, and would enroll in mental health treatment and follow the therapist or psychiatrist’s recommendations, according to the motion. Hanson is “agreeable” to house arrest or an electronic monitor.

If released without posting bail, Hanson and his attorney promise to appear at all court appearances as ordered by the judge.

Hanson’s next scheduled court appearance is set for June 6.