A black restaurant owner from New York is filing a civil rights lawsuit against the city’s police department, alleging that he was arrested for trying to help a customer in distress.
Proprietor Clyde Pemberton told the New York Times that officers didn’t listen to his side of the story. Employees offering to vouch for their boss were turned aside, with law enforcement opting instead to interview three women.
Pemberton says he and several employees confronted ‘two women’ who appeared to be moving a third, intoxicated women from the restaurant. When Pemberton and his employees approached, the women—all of whom were white—allegedly began yelling racial slurs at him.
The assault purportedly began when Pemberton offered the inebriated woman a chair.
In response, Pemberton, a 68-year old retired psychiatrist, was insulted and punched the chest. Another woman struck employee Christian Baptiste in the head with her purse.
As the unexpected melee continued, other employees called police to report the disruptive customers.
When police arrived at the scene, they didn’t seem interested in hearing both sides to the story. Pemberton says one officer lied in an official report, writing that the establishment staff said they were trying to ‘prevent’ the women from leaving.
The Times says that ‘testilying’—providing false, misleading or otherwise untrue statements under oath—is a ‘stubborn issue’ within certain precincts of the New York Police Department.
Last November, a judge dismissed the charges of wrongful imprisonment brought against Pemberton and his employees.
Now, Pemberton is suing on grounds that racial discrimination led to his arrest.
“The NYPD arrested Dr. Pemberton, Mr. Baptiste, and Mr. Debnam not because of their conduct, but because they were there and they are black,” says a court document reprinted by the New York Times. “Neither their side of the story nor their freedom mattered to the police.”
Pemberton, says the lawsuit, was arrested “for being a conscientious business owner while black.” He and the other men arrested “did nothing wrong, and no reasonable police officer would have believed they did anything wrong.”
Elizabeth Saylor, a civil rights attorney representing Pemberton and his employees, says the men should never have been arrested.
“You don’t just arrest everyone on the scene and sort it out later,” Saylor said. “They are privileged black men who have money and the resources to fight this, but despite that it deeply affected them.”
Pemberton, a retired medical doctor and native of Trinidad & Tobago, said the arrest has impacted his ability to travel to and from his home country. He says Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents continue to harass him at airports, even though the charges against him have long since been dismissed.