Clyde Pemberton never expected to be arrested in his own restaurant, but that’s exactly what happened to the Harlem business owner.
According to a new federal lawsuit, Pemberton and two of his employees say they were racially profiled and falsely detained by New York Police Department officers following a bizarre scene in his establishment, MIST Harlem.
The New York Times reports:
“On June 1, 2017, Dr. Pemberton, a retired psychiatrist, was holding a business meeting at his restaurant when he saw two women leaving the bathroom, dragging a third woman who was visibly unconscious across the room at 10:30 p.m., the complaint states. The women, who were all white, knocked over a stanchion of a rope blocking off a section of the restaurant to customers.
“When Dr. Pemberton, now 68, walked over to the women to ask what was wrong and suggested the unconscious woman be placed in a chair, one woman punched him in the chest and referred to him with a racial slur, according to the complaint.”
While Pemberton and his employees, Christian Baptiste and Thomas Debnam, say they were all assaulted by the women, when police arrived they were the ones who found themselves in custody.
The New York Times explains, “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.”
The men were charged with unlawful imprisonment and spent six hours in custody. Last November, however, the charges were dropped. Still, the traumatic ordeal has left a lasting imprint on them.
“Everything we did was in the right way and approach, and it was overlooked, ignored and disrespected, our rights as human beings,” Debnam said. “There’s a flaw in our system.”
Pemberton, a legal immigrant from Trinidad, said he’s had trouble traveling in and out of the country since his arrest, even though the charges were dismissed.
“We thought it was over,” Pemberton said, noting police have stepped up their presence at his restaurant, which he said is hurting business.
Though one of the women involved was also arrested and charged with assault with intent to cause physical injury, Pemberton’s attorney said police mishandled the incident.
“You don’t just arrest everybody on the scene and sort it out later,” Elizabeth Saylor, a civil rights lawyer, said. “They are privileged Black men who have money and the resources to fight this, but despite that it deeply affected them.”