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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Edward Teach drops product tampering case against former manager

Edward Teach Brewery has dropped its lawsuit against former head brewer Erik Peterson, who exited the company in 2022 to work as director of operations for Flying Machine Brewing Company. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

WILMINGTON — A brewery that was embroiled in multiple lawsuits due to a viral social media post that went live at the new year is now scaling back its days in court.

READ MORE: Edward Teach files suit against former employee, now Flying Machine manager, for product tampering

Edward Teach Brewery has dropped its lawsuit against former head brewer Erik Peterson, who exited the company in 2022 to work as director of operations for Flying Machine Brewing Company. Peterson was being sued for defamation and product tampering, after sticking QR codes to ETB products stocked at two area Harris Teeters — Peterson was never charged with the crime and the lawsuit remained a civil case.

The codes directed users to a Facebook page that Peterson allegedly authored, claiming “The Edward Teach owner (Gary Sholar) is a terrible person” and provided a hyperlink to a Facebook post that went viral throughout the Wilmington community.

The post started by Madonna Nash claimed Sholar inappropriately engaged in threatening behavior against Nash’s daughter and area musician, Asia Norris, and a friend, Paige Grant, during Norris’ Nov. 16 performance at the brewery. ETB has described the post as false and defamatory and opened a lawsuit against Nash less than a week after the case against Peterson launched. The post has since been deleted from Nash’s social media account.

A Thursday email sent by Sholar’s lawyer, Thomas Varnum of Brooks Pierce, included a typed-out apology letter with Peterson’s signature, dated April 18, 2024. Port City Daily asked Varnum if Peterson himself wrote the letter, but Varnum said he could not comment on details of the litigation or settlement communications.

PCD also reached out to Peterson’s attorney, Grayson Cheek, to ask for more details about the case but did not receive a response by press.

Peterson apologized to the brewery and stated his actions were “misguided,” as he was “frustrated with a number of things, most personal in nature.” He said it contributed to his lack of judgment and caused him to act out in ways that were not in character. As well, he admitted the brewery “had every right” to sue him and was clear he acted alone, independently from his current employer.

Peterson put the onus of his motivation on Nash’s post: “I made the mistake of assuming she was telling the truth about what she claimed happened that night in the ETB Taproom.” 

Yet, he admitted to not being there, nor was Nash in the establishment, to see firsthand how the encounter unraveled. “Next time I will not be so quick to believe every sensational thing I read online,” Peterson added.

Both Nash and Sholar’s accounts of the Nov. 16 incident state the brewery owner approached Norris on stage while she was playing guitar and singing. Grant was attending the event in support of her friend, and intervened to tell Sholar to stop trying to take over the mic to sing. 

The accounts diverge as far as the nature of Sholar’s behavior, which Nash alleged was hostile and influenced by inebriation. Norris claimed, according to the ALE investigation, that Sholar “hip checked” her on stage and Grant testified she had to place a chair between herself and the brewery owner out of fear of assault, before Sholar tossed a chair that hit patrons. Grant said the incident hurt her finger.

Sholar admitted to exchanging harsh language, drinking, and failing to appropriately supervise the venue, but disputes Nash’s claims of physical assault, throwing a chair, drinking in excess, and engaging in aggressive conduct. 

“I admit I don’t know whether anything she said in her post is true, and I am disappointed I reacted to her story with anger, rather than seeking the truth,” Peterson’s letter continues. It goes on to tout Edward Teach’s beer and encourages local stores and bars to restock it. 

Multiple venues — bars, restaurants and grocery stores — began pulling the product once Nash’s post went viral. It reached thousands of readers after being shared upward of 1,000 times. The defamation lawsuit filed against Nash at the end of January stated she had interfered with brewery business relationships and sought more than $25,000 in damages. It also asked for removal of the post, as Nash, it claimed, engaged in “unlawful use of social media to defame and inflict lasting injury” on Edward Teach, in an attempt to cancel and tarnish its reputation.

Port City Daily asked Varnum if there have been developments in Nash’s lawsuit, but he could not comment on details of the litigation. 

As of press, though Nash’s post and other posts related to Sholar appear to have been removed, her GoFundMe to raise funds for legal expenses remains pinned at the top of her profile. She and Norris have declined interviews with PCD.

Nash’s post went live six weeks after the Nov. 16 incident. By early January, Norris and Grant filed citizen-initiated warrants against Sholar, for two counts each of assault on a female and communicating threats. 

The Alcohol Law Enforcement Agency also opened an investigation into Sholar; it substantiated Norris and Grant’s claims, as well as found the brewery was operating with an expired permit. It charged Sholar with assault on a female and communicating threats, disorderly conduct on a licensed premises, and failure to supervise on a licensed premises.

The brewery brought the business back up to permitting standards, but the district attorney’s office dismissed the citizen-initiated warrants a month later, claiming insufficient evidence. 

Sholar pleaded guilty to failing to superintend a business for which an ABC permit was issued and took an Alford plea to being a permittee and allowing disorderly conduct on the premises; both are misdemeanors. Alford plea consists of a defendant accepting guilt without admitting wrongdoing. Usually, an Alford plea comes when the prosecution has enough evidence to hold a party accountable. 

The brewery owner also received six months of probation, had to pay a $100 fine, and complete the ALE’s Responsible Sellers Course, a training program on alcohol sales and service laws in North Carolina.

Although the ALE’s criminal charges have been settled, the agency also charged him with violations of North Carolina Administrative Code, including intoxication and disorderly conduct by a permittee. The Alcohol Beverage Commission handles code violations received from law enforcement partners in a negotiated settlement process, which can include penalties such as fines, warnings, and permit suspensions.

Varnum told Port City Daily that the brewery is in communication with ABC representatives regarding the settlement process for regulatory charges.

The brewery provided the following statement to media in regard to closing the tampering case and Peterson’s letter: 

“We accept and appreciate Mr. Peterson’s apology. We know that, like many others, he was misled by Madonna Nash’s false and defamatory Facebook posts. This incident has damaged our business and hurt our employees and their families. We hope it makes everyone think twice about believing unverified accusations online.”

Erik Peterson’s letter:

[Ed. Note: A previous version of this article stated “PCD asked Varnum if Nash’s lawsuit will continue,” rather than “PCD asked Varnum if there have been developments in Nash’s lawsuit.” PCD regrets this error.]

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