MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Someone placed a noose several years ago on the locker of a Wisconsin brewery employee who last week opened fire on his co-workers, the brewery operator said Wednesday, confirming at least one instance of racial harassment against him as police continue to piece together his motive.
Anthony Ferrill, an electrician at the sprawling Molson Coors brewery in Milwaukee, fatally shot five co-workers before killing himself on the campus last week. His motive remains unknown. Milwaukee police say they’re still investigating and have released almost no details about the incident aside from the shooter’s and victims’ names.
“At this time, it is undetermined if race played a factor in this incident,” Sgt. Sheronda Grant, a spokeswoman, said Wednesday.
Local media have reported over several days on speculation that the attack was racially motivated, interviewing current and former Molson Coors employees anonymously complaining about longstanding discrimination against black workers. Ferrill was black. Four of the shooting victims were white, and the fifth was Latino.
The company on Wednesday confirmed that a noose was placed on Ferrill’s locker in 2015. Ferrill wasn’t working that day but was told about it, the company said.
Molson Coors spokesman Adam Collins said the company investigated but there was no security surveillance video showing who placed the noose on the locker. The company explained to employees that such actions weren’t acceptable and shared channels for filing discrimination or harassment complaints with workers. He said there’s no evidence to suggest any of the shooting victims were involved in the noose incident.
Collins called the incident “disgusting” but said there’s no record of Ferrill filing any complaints with the company or the federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.
Christine Saah Nazer, an EEOC spokesperson, said in an email that confidentiality laws mean the office cannot confirm or deny complaints unless the EEOC files suit against an employer, “which is usually a last resort.” No suit appeared to have been filed regarding Ferrill, she said.
Messages left by The Associated Press with the law firm representing the Ferrill family weren’t immediately returned Wednesday.
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Collins said Miller Coors has “a lot of work to do to build the open, welcoming and inclusive culture this company values. We’ve already started some of that work by listening to employees over the last few days.”
He urged people to be patient while police investigate.
“It’s understandable in the absence of facts there are rumors out there,” he said. “But we have the same kinds of questions everyone else does.”
Two former brewery employees, Robert Powell and Lonnie Carl James, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for a story published Tuesday that a few months after the noose was found, several racist notes were slipped into Ferrill’s locker.
Messages the AP left at phone listings and social media sites for Powell and James on Wednesday weren’t immediately returned.
Asked if he could confirm whether anyone put racist notes in Ferrill’s locker, Collins again said that the company isn’t aware of any complaints Ferrill may have filed with the EEOC, his managers or Molson Coors human resources personnel about discrimination or harassment.