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An employee manager of an Eau Claire restaurant has the opportunity to avoid a criminal conviction for making up an armed robbery at the business as a joke.

Numerous law enforcement officers arrived at the business on Aug. 12, police say, to find out the robbery was a fake.

James T. Hale, 25, of Chippewa Falls, pleaded guilty recently in Eau Claire County Court to a misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct.

As part of a one-year deferred agreement with prosecutors, the criminal charge will be dismissed if Hale pays a $250 fine, commits no new crimes, performs 40 hours of community service and writes a letter of apology to the Eau Claire Police Department.

According to the criminal complaint:

At 10:45 p.m. Monday, Aug. 12, police dispatchers broadcast an emergency signal reserved for serious life-threatening emergency situations typically involving weapons.

Dispatchers advised police officers there was an armed robbery in progress at Taco Bell, 2056 S. Hastings Way.

Dispatchers say they had been receiving information from a male subject on site.

Numerous officers responded in emergency mode.

After speaking with some Taco Bell employees inside the restaurant, officers learned the incident was a joke.

Hale, an employee manager, confirmed he was involved.

Hale said he had sent a series of text messages from a co-worker’s phone to another Taco Bell employee who was at a different location.

The co-worker said she was using her phone to send text messages to her boyfriend, who works at a Taco Bell in La Crosse.

The co-worker said she set her phone down at 10:44 p.m., at which time Hale picked it up and began using it.

The co-worker said she and Hale were close friends, so she does not mind him using her phone.

But the co-worker didn’t know what Hale had sent until he started to “freak out” and say the police were coming.

The co-worker looked at her phone, saw the messages Hale had sent, and called her boyfriend to tell him Hale made it all up.

Police reviewed the text messages Hale sent to the co-worker’s boyfriend.

Hale indicated his store was being robbed and that the perpetrator had a knife.

The co-worker’s boyfriend called another Taco Bell employee in Eau Claire, believing that would result in a faster police response.

That employee immediately called 911. He then called another Taco Bell manager to report the incident after he learned it was a joke.

Hale confirmed he had sent the text messages to the co-worker’s boyfriend in order to “create a scare” because he thought it would be funny.

Hale repeatedly apologized for his actions and said he understood the chaos and disturbance that had been created.

Hale was arrested and taken to the Eau Claire County Jail.

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