HARLEM NEW YORK USA- The heart of a Harlem business that you own seems like the last place that a black man should not feel at ease, and yet the New York Times reports that’s what one business owner is saying happened to him at the hands of police, all for trying to help a white patron in distress.
Clyde Pemberton, the owner of MIST Harlem, and two of his employees are suing the NYPD in Manhattan federal court for false arrest and violating Pemberton’s civil rights. According to Pemberton’s lawyers, “the entire incident suggested racial bias and was an example of the kind of interactions with law enforcement that often strain the department’s relationship with minority communities.”
The incident took place on June 1st, 2017, where Pemberton, a retired psychiatrist, was holding a business meeting at the restaurant when he saw two women leaving the bathroom, dragging a third one with them. The third woman was clearly unconscious. According to the complaint, when Pemberton walked over to ask what was wrong and suggested they put the woman in a chair, one of them punched him and called him a racial slur. A second woman hit one of Pemberton’s employees, Christian Baptiste, with her purse. Note that all three women were white.
When police were called, the officers, all white, spoke with only one of the women before arresting Pemberton, Baptiste, and a third employee, Thomas Debnam, charging them with unlawful imprisonment. These charges would be dismissed in November.
One of the arresting officers, Anthony Sengco, wrote in his criminal complaint that he observed Dr. Pemberton, Mr. Baptiste and Mr. Debnam blocking the exit to the restaurant and that the men had stated to him that they were trying to prevent the women from leaving. The men deny that they made any such statements to Mr. Sengco or that they were trying to prevent the women from leaving.
A New York Times investigation earlier this year found that “testilying,” the practice of testifying or providing statements that are untrue is a stubborn issue within the police department.
Dr. Pemberton said he explained that he was the owner of the restaurant and a physician, but that officers never asked him what had happened, and that their supervisor had been hostile, according to the lawsuit.
Dr. Pemberton, the lawsuit states, was arrested “for being a conscientious business owner while black,” a reference to the growing list of activities — such as driving while black — that can place someone at risk of being stopped, questioned or arrested by the police.
The men “did nothing wrong, and no reasonable police officer would have believed they did anything wrong,” the lawsuit states. “The NYPD arrested Dr. Pemberton, Mr. Baptiste, and Mr. Debnam not because of their conduct, but because they were there and they are black. Neither their side of the story nor their freedom mattered to the police.”
“Everything we did was in the right way and approach, and it was overlooked, ignored and disrespected, our rights as human beings,” Mr. Debnam, 32 said in an interview. “There’s a flaw in our system. On top of paying $15,000 in legal fees to defend themselves, Pemberton, a green card holder from Trinidad and Tobago, said that the charge, even after being dismissed, has given him issues when trying to travel in and out of the country.
The city’s Law Department will “review the case and respond accordingly,” said the agency’s spokesman Nicholas Paolucci.
Elizabeth Saylor, a civil rights attorney representing the men, said that the officer’s statements were not true and that the men never should have been arrested.