Hate crime charges for Hatboro woman who launched racist rant against Amy’s Pizzeria

Rita Bellew has been charged with “ethnic intimidation and harassment” by the Hatboro Police Department. She told WHYY News she’s “horrified” and “ashamed” by her behavior.

A view from up the street of Amy's Pizzeria. Further down the street are other houses, flags, and cars at an intersection.

Amy’s Pizzeria in Hatboro, Pa. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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The woman who verbally attacked the owner of Amy’s Pizzeria in Hatboro is facing charges.

The Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office and the Hatboro Police Department have filed ethnic intimidation and harassment charges against Rita Bellew.

A video circulating on social media shows the 55-year-old Hatboro resident, who is white, berating the staff of the Latino-owned Hatboro pizzeria and owner Omar Quiñonez after she heard a Spanish-language program playing on a TV.

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“What’s wrong with that is you’re not American, dude,” she says in the video, which has garnered more than 4.8 million views on Twitter. Bellew curses at Quiñonez, demands a refund, and says that she will “get” him out of Hatboro. “Give me my money back. I’m not giving my money to some illegal immigrant,” she says.

The Hatboro Police Department on Friday described Bellew’s actions as a “racially fueled tirade.”

In addition to what’s heard on video, Bellew called Quiñonez “Mexican,” and “little guy,” the shop owner told Hatboro Police Officer Brett Paul, according to the police affidavit. Ofc. Paul, who had been called to the scene, handed Bellew her refund and told her she was not welcome back at the restaurant. She said, “I’m too damn white,” according to the report.

WHYY News spoke with Bellew shortly after she was charged. She said she was “horrified” and “ashamed” by her behavior.

“I’m very, very sorry,” she told WHYY News. “I wanted to go down there and apologize, but I was told that wasn’t a good idea.”

It wasn’t about race, Bellew insisted, and she’s “not a racist.” Asked about her racist language toward the owner, she described herself as “emotionally unstable.” She’s dealing with multiple breast cancer diagnoses, Bellew said, and she’s a caregiver to her ill father. She described her behavior as an angry outburst as a result of “being overwhelmed with everything else in [her] life.”

“It came out sideways and I took it out on innocent people that didn’t deserve it at all,” Bellew acknowledged. She is afraid to go outside, and has been threatened and harassed, she said.

Asked how she will handle the charges, Bellew said, “I deserve to be in trouble for this … What I did was very wrong, and I don’t want people to think that it’s okay.”

Quiñonez, the shop owner, didn’t respond to WHYY’s request for comment on Friday. The pizzeria is still slammed with orders from customers old and new who want to support the restaurant, according to a staffer. Earlier in the week Quiñonez said he was left shaken by the incident, despite the overwhelming support.

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The more he thinks about it, the angrier he gets. “I feel bad, angry, sad…  And the more that I think about it now, it’s getting worse,” Quiñonez said. “It was bad.”

Hatboro Police Chief James Gardner said ethnic intimidation charges are rare in Hatboro. He couldn’t remember the last time there was one during his 22-year run as chief.

The department was “shocked as the public” when it saw the “diatribes,” he said. “[H]ow it was racially fueled and directed at this business, who has been a very supportive member of our business community over the years to all of Hatboro. They’re just all around great people,” Gardner said.

Bellew’s harassment charge is a summary offense, a relatively low-grade criminal charge.

“Ethnic intimidation,” however, is a third degree misdemeanor, according to Pennsylvania law. 

The offense is regularly referred to as a “hate crime.” State law defines it as an act “motivated by hatred toward the race, color, religion or national origin of another individual or group of individuals.”

Assistant District Attorney Tanner Beck is prosecuting the case in Montgomery County. The hearing has not yet been scheduled.

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