Shock and anger after fired worker killed by police at Oklahoma pork plant | US news
Workers at a pork processing plant in Oklahoma have condemned the calling of police by management that resulted in the killing of a worker who had just been fired.
Chiewelthap Mariar, a 26-year-old refugee from Sudan, was killed by police officers while working at the Seaboard Foods meatpacking plant in Guymon on 9 January.
A worker who filmed parts of the incident on his cellphone, and was later fired for doing so, requested to remain anonymous for fear of further retaliation. The worker claimed Mariar was fired from his job by a supervisor but was told by human resources to finish his shift.
The worker said the supervisor who fired him confronted Mariar on the shop floor after he was fired, and police arrived soon after to escort Mariar from the site. Seaboard Foods did not comment on but did not refute this characterization of the situation.
“I witnessed the entire thing, from when they started arguing with him until he was shot,” said the worker. “He had a company-issued band-cutter in his hand. When the police got to the plant, the guy was already working, minding his own business.”
The worker provided cellphone footage leading up to and following the incident, where Mariar can be seen with the band-cutter in his hand working around other employees and being confronted by officers on the shop floor.
“They made him out to be a danger when they said he had a knife in his hand, when it wasn’t. And that’s wrong on so many levels,” the worker said.
The worker claimed employees were told to keep working after the incident occurred.
“I worked in maintenance. All they had us do was cover the scene with plastic, and we proceeded to finish what was on the production line,” the worker added. “This company fired me for recording the truth they were trying to brush under the mat. They never asked me if I was OK. It was my first time seeing a guy get killed – and then I get fired.”
The worker also claimed they were asked to sign an incident report, despite not agreeing with what was pre-filled out on the report.
A spokesperson for Seaboard Corporation, the parent company of Seaboard Foods, said: “Following the incident, operations were ceased for the remainder of the evening and the following day, and we provided in-person counseling services for employees throughout the week, in addition to ongoing phone counseling services available 24 hours, seven days a week.”
The spokesperson added: “We express our heartfelt sorrow to Chiewelthap Mariar’s family, co-workers, friends and those affected by his death following an incident at our Guymon processing plant involving the Guymon police department on 9 January.
“Providing our employees with a safe work environment and their wellbeing is extremely important to us. Following repeated attempts to bring calm to the situation, we requested assistance from the Guymon police as we felt it was in the best interest for everyone’s safety.”
The company did not comment on any details regarding the situation or comment on the worker who claimed they were fired for taking cellphone footage, saying the company does not comment on personnel matters. They deferred further questions to the Oklahoma state bureau of investigation.
On 10 January, the OSBI issued a press release that said the incident was being investigated.
The press release claimed Mariar brandished a knife, approached officers who attempted to use a Taser that failed, and then Mariar was shot by the officers at the scene. Mariar was then transported to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The OSBI declined to comment beyond the press release and did not clarify whether the knife the police referred to was the company-issued band-cutter seen in cellphone video footage.
About 2,600 employees work at the Guymon plant, operated under a subsidiary of the Seaboard Corporation, one of the largest companies in the world with over $9bn in annual revenue. The plant processes 6 million pigs annually.
The plant was criticized during the Covid pandemic due to the high rates of infection among employees. By April 2021, 41% of workers at the plant had tested positive for Covid. Some sick workers died from the virus.
In June last year, the plant was cited by Osha, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, for failing to properly document worker injuries and illnesses 51 times in the span of two months. The plant had also been cited by Osha in December 2021 for ergonomic problems facing workers on the job.
US police killings reached a record high in 2022, with at least 1,176 deaths, about 100 people per month.
Another employee at the Seaboard plant who works a different shift criticized management for calling police on a worker and bringing them into the plant. The worker claimed the human-resources unit on site was difficult to deal with.
“They didn’t have to bring the police in,” said the worker. “The whole thing is unfair. He did not have to have his life taken away.”
The union representing workers at the plant, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), has called for a federal investigation into the incident.
“Mr Mariar and his family came to this country to escape the violence and strife of Sudan, settled in Guymon, Oklahoma, to contribute to the economy of our country, and died senselessly on the shop floor,” said Martin Rosas, UFCW local 2 president.
“Chiewelthap, his family, his community, and his fellow workers deserve justice.”