The owner of a well-known Harlem restaurant and two of his employees filed a civil rights lawsuit against the NYPD last week over a 2017 altercation involving a group of white women.
Dr. Clyde Pemberton, a 68-year-old retired psychiatrist, and owner of MIST, says the NYPD violated his civil rights and arrested him and his employees on false charges, reports the New York Times. And while the charges against the three men have been dropped, the ramifications of the arrest continue to ripple throughout the men’s lives.
According to Pemberton’s lawsuit, he was holding a business meeting at MIST the night of June 1, 2017, when he noticed two women dragging a third, visibly unconscious, woman out of the bathroom. After they knocked over a stanchion blocking off a portion of the restaurant to customers, Pemberton went up to the women to ask them what was wrong; he also suggested they place the unconscious woman in a chair, the Times reports.
At this point, the suit claims the women escalated the situation, with one woman punching Pemberton in the chest and calling him a racial slur, and the other hitting one of Pemberton’s employees in the head with her purse. As the women continued to verbally and physically attack Pemberton and his employees, other MIST workers called the police.
But the group of officers who arrived at the scene arrested Pemberton and two of his workers, Thomas Debnam and Christian Baptiste, along with one of the women. The lawsuit claims that police, all of whom were white, never asked Pemberton what happened, choosing instead to arrest the men after talking to one of the white women.
According to the Times, one officer claimed he saw the three men blocking an exit to the restaurant to prevent the women from leaving. Pemberton and his employees were charged with unlawful imprisonment and spent six hours in police custody before finally being released.
“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,” the lawsuit states, adding that no “reasonable police officer” would have believed Pemberton and his employees did anything wrong.
The charges against the men were dropped last November, but the effects of the arrest have been far-reaching, the suit claims. Of course, there was the financial cost (the Times reports that the men had to spend $15,000 in legal fees for their defense). But Pemberton, who hails from Trinidad and Tobago, is a green card holder and says Immigrations and Customs Enforcement have repeatedly stopped him while traveling in and out of the country since the arrest.
Pemberton also says the NYPD has stepped up its presence at MIST since the arrest, performing random checks of the restaurant and costing him business, according to the Times.