(Illustration: Diana Quach)

The Actually True Tale Of The ‘Sorry I Tased You’ Cake

The viral “hoax” may not be such a hoax after all

By Sara Morrison

A civil lawsuit against a Florida sheriff’s deputy became a viral news story after it was revealed that the (now former) deputy Michael Wohlers baked his victim, Stephanie Byron, an apology cake after he tased her.

Accompanying an article about the lawsuit in the Pensacola News Journal was a photo “special to the News Journal” of a, frankly, sloppily decorated cake showing a male stick figure tasing a female stick figure with the words “Sorry I Tased You” on it. It was a ridiculous cake, and several outletsgleefully picked up the story, only to be taken to task by a BuzzFeed reporter who noted that the photo was older than the incident itself by at least a year and pronounced it “#bogus.”

This prompted a round of Taser-cake-debunking articles that wrote the cake off as a hoax and pronounced the story “totally fake.”

But it turns out that’s not quite accurate either. Here is the real story, as per the court documents.

Stephanie Byron is suing former Escambia County deputy Michael Wohlers and the sheriff’s office for excessive force on the part of Wohlers and negligence by his employer. She claims that, in June 2015, she was at work. Wohlers arrived in full uniform and “harassed” Byron about her “personal life,” ultimately taking away her sweet tea and refusing to return it. When she moved to get it back herself, she says, Wohlers tased her. He then left the scene and filed a false report with his supervisors claiming an “accidental discharge” of the Taser into his pillow.

Enter the cake. Wohlers “had a guilty conscience about his attack,” the lawsuit says, “so he baked her a cake,” which is described as showing “Wohlers firing the Taser at Ms. Byron. It also reads ‘Sorry I Tased You.’”

Byron’s lawyer, J. Alistair McKenzie, sent Vocativ a statement clarifying that there wasn’t a physical cake sent to Byron, just a photo of one sent in a text message.

“Shortly after the incident, my client received a text message from then-deputy Wohlers stating he had baked her a cake and providing her with a picture of the supposed cake he wanted to give to her,” McKenzie said. “My client was never in physical possession of the cake and did not take the photograph. My client at all times believed this picture and cake to be real and this information was reported to law enforcement by her shortly after the incident.”

A photo of the cake is included in the lawsuit, but was not in the public documents. McKenzie’s office would not send Vocativ anything more than the statement, which says to refer to those documents for “any further information.”

That means that yes, there is a photo of a purported Taser apology cake out there, but there’s no way right now to know what it looks like. Based on its description in the lawsuit, however, Wohlers may well have found that old photo and sent it to Byron. So that cake in the Pensacola News Journal article may well be the one at the center of this case after all, even though it predates it.

Incidentally, Byron’s lawsuit isn’t the only documentation about the incident. An August 2016 issue of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Professional Compliance Bulletin describes it a bit differently, saying Wohlers was off-duty when he tased Byrons and was visiting his “friend” when they “engaged in friendly horseplay over a bottle of sweet tea.” During this “friendly horseplay,” Wohlers “pulled out his department-issued dart firing stun gun and shot the victim in the chest.” Then he lied that he shot his pillow. When Bryron said she was filing a formal complaint against him, he admitted to his employer that he had shot a person with his Taser, not a pillow, but said it was an accident. He was simply performing a “safety check” and lost his grip on the weapon. There were no details as to why Wohlers was performing a safety check on his Taser in the middle of a round of “friendly horseplay.”

“In an effort to apologize to the victim, the respondent baked a cake and decorated it with one figure firing a DFSG at another figure,” the bulletin says. No criminal charges were filed, and Wohlers resigned before the department’s investigation was complete.

As for the origin of cake photo itself, one man is claiming that he made it to apologize to “Katie Ross” because of an “incident between co-workers.” He claims to be from Barnstable, and there is, sure enough, a “J. Maloney” and a “K. Ross” are listed as officers at the Barnstable Police Department. If one police officer accidentally hit another with a Taser, that would explain why the cake’s stick figures appear to be wearing police uniforms.

This story originally appeared on Vocativ on September 30th, 2016.

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