Attorney General James Utilizes Authority to Prosecute False, Race-Based Police Reports for First Time
Former Ice Cream Shop Owner Also Sued Over Use of Racist Intimidation Tactics,
Pulling Weapons On Peaceful BLM Protesters
First Lawsuit Brought by AG James’ Hate Crimes and Bias Prevention Unit
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today took action to stop discrimination, harassment, violent threats, and — for the first time — false, race-based police reports in a lawsuit against the former owner of a popular ice cream shop in Schenectady, New York. The lawsuit — filed against David Elmendorf, the former owner of Bumpy’s Polar Freeze — seeks to hold Elmendorf responsible for multiple racist and discriminatory actions he took in violation of the law shortly after the ice cream shop’s allegedly racist hiring practices came to light last year. In altercations with peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters, Elmendorf brandished several weapons and made death threats in an effort to stop legal protests, while simultaneously using a number of offensive, racial epithets when referring to Black protesters. Following the altercations, Elmendorf called the police and falsely claimed protesters were brandishing weapons as he used their race and color as reasoning for the call. Today’s lawsuit is the first brought by Attorney General James’ Hate Crimes and Bias Prevention Unit and seeks to make use of new authority granted to Attorney General James by the state legislature, last year, against those making false, race-based police reports to local police.
“Those who make racist and violent threats will be held accountable by my office with the full weight of the law,” said Attorney General James. “The charges against David Elmendorf should serve as a warning that hate crimes will not be tolerated on my watch and we will not allow any individual to use the color of someone’s skin as a weapon. Today, we are utilizing new authority, for the first time, to bring charges against an individual who filed false, race-based police reports. We must continue to remain vigilant against hate and bias in our communities, and I encourage anyone with information about a potential hate crime to contact my office.”
Last June, text messages allegedly authored by Elmendorf circulated on social media, revealing the use of racial epithets and Elmendorf’s refusal to hire Black individuals. In response, Black community groups — including Black Lives Matter — as well as hundreds of others protested against Elmendorf on private property near Bumpy’s. Over a period of two days, Elmendorf then terrorized peaceful protesters by making several armed, racist death threats with both a .22 caliber air rifle and a baton. Additionally, Elmendorf called local police and made false reports — claiming protesters were armed, when, in fact, no protesters were carrying any weapons.
Today’s lawsuit charges Elmendorf with intending to choose his victims based on race, in violation of New York Civil Rights Law (NYCLR) § 79-n, as well as violating their ability to practice their civil right to peacefully protest when he threatened to use physical force and harassed protesters with racial slurs, under New York Civil Rights Law § 40-c.
Additionally, for the first time since the passage of the additional provision in NYCLR § 79-n last summer, Attorney General James is bringing a charge against an individual for filing a false, racially-motivated police report. Last year, following the high-profile case against Amy Cooper, a white woman who called 911 on an innocent Black birdwatcher in Central Park, the state legislature passed a law giving Attorney General James the authority to sue any person who — when motivated by racial or other bias — “summons a police officer…without reason to suspect a violation of the penal law.”
Attorney General James seeks to enjoin Elmendorf from imposing future threats to intimidate, coerce, or harass any persons or group of people because of their race, from having or brandishing a deadly weapon within 1,000 feet of any peaceful protest, from communicating with any of the victims from the incident, and from creating false reports with the police based on a person’s skin color.
The suit also seeks to force Elmendorf to pay a penalty of up to $500 for each instance where he attempted to violate a protester’s right to peacefully protest, pursuant to NYCRL § 40-c.
“Every day, we wake up to news and social media videos of people weaponizing the 911 emergency system against African-Americans hoping to see them falsely arrested or worse,” said State Senator Kevin Parker. “My legislation is by no means a solution to the systemic injustices and prejudices that fuel these types of calls to the police. But this law provides victims of this despicable behavior the start of some recourse. I am proud that this bill — along with other important police reform bills — were passed and I thank the Attorney General’s Office for using the legislation to ensure victims are receiving justice.”
“Last year in New York City, we had the Amy Cooper incident where a white woman called the police on a Black birdwatcher in Central Park,” said Assemblymember Diana Richardson. “Along with my colleagues, I introduced and passed a bill making it a civil rights violation to call 911 to report a non-emergency incident involving a member of a protected class without reason to suspect a crime or an imminent threat. I am grateful that today Attorney General Letitia James has used this power in her toolbox to prosecute another false, race based police report.”
“Schenectady County appreciates the efforts of Attorney General Letitia James’ Office in bringing this lawsuit,” said Schenectady County Attorney Christopher Gardner. “I referred Mr. Elmendorf’s behavior to the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau because racism has no place in a civil society. The Attorney General’s action today demonstrates that New York will not tolerate discrimination on the basis of race.”
“Racism and hatred will not be tolerated in our community and I would like to thank Attorney General James for her leadership on this historic case,” said Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy.
This matter is being handled by Special Counsel for the Hate Crimes and Bias Prevention Unit Rick Sawyer, Assistant Attorney General Sania Khan, and Volunteer Assistant Attorney General Hannah Bernard — all under the supervision of Civil Rights Bureau Chief Jessica Clarke; Investigator Samuel Scotellaro and Supervising Investigator Mark Spencer; and Associate Director of Legislative Affairs Casandra Walker. The Investigations Bureau is led by Chief Oliver Pu-Folkes. The Civil Rights Bureau is a part of the Division for Social Justice, which is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux. The Investigations Bureau is a part of the Division for Criminal Justice, which is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General José Maldonado. Both the Division for Social Justice and the Division for Criminal Justice are overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.