Raw-food Rashomon as cops remove disruptive man

Police handcuff a customer before removing him from the LifeThyme store on Jan. 29. According to store employees, the man insisted on being given a scissor, started cursing and then went behind a counter, scaring a cashier, causing them to call police for assistance.
Police handcuff a customer before removing him from the LifeThyme store on Jan. 29. According to store employees, the man insisted on being given a scissor to open some packaged food he wanted to eat, started cursing and then went behind a counter to look for one, scaring a cashier, causing them to call police for assistance.

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | A couple of concerned Villager readers recently alerted the newspaper to a video clip of an incident involving a police intervention last month at a local health-food store that the readers felt was disturbing.

However, the store’s general manager said there was more to the story than what was shown in the brief cell-phone video.

The incident occurred at LifeThyme All-Natural Market, at 410 Sixth Ave., between W. Eighth and Ninth Sts., on Fri., Jan. 29, at 5:30 p.m.

The video shows two police officers — it’s not clear which precinct or task force they are from — standing near a man who a clearly fed-up female manager is saying she just wants out of the store. The man sits down at a table, though, and says he just needs “a minute more” to finish his food. But the police, after one dons gloves before taking hold of his arm, promptly escort him out, as he protests.

Before they get out of the store, though, there is a loud commotion as the man falls to the ground.

“Owwww! S–t! You’re hurting me!” the man shouts.

The cell-phone video, taken by an unnamed witness, doesn’t show a close-up view of when the man goes down — the video was being shot from too far away at that point — but subsequently does show a bright splash of blood on the floor where some part of the man’s head, face or mouth apparently hit it.

“Stop resisting. Shut the f–k up,” one officer can be heard growling to the uncooperative man in irritation. When the cell-phone holder rushes up, though, the officer at first stops talking, then his tone gets more polite.

Now concerned for the man’s welfare, the female manager implores the cops, “He’s gonna leave. Don’t handcuff him.”

“Ma’am, back up, please,” the same officer tells the employee.

“I’ll leave now,” the man says, but it’s too late, as the police snap the cuffs on him.

The witness can be heard on the video accusingly calling the incident “police brutality, police brutality — right where we eatin’ food.”

But Jason Bander, who has been the store’s general manager for 10 years, said video from a well-positioned store surveillance camera showed a more accurate picture of what happened.

“He took himself down,” he told The Villager last week. “He tried a spin move. It was clear that he took a dive when it was clear they wouldn’t let him spin away and go his own way.”

Bander said he wasn’t at the store when the incident occurred but got a full report from the female manager. The man is a local, likely in his mid-50s, someone who has been a regular customer at the store for years, according to Bander.

“It’s been very hard on us at the store,” he said. “He’s been in a state of accelerated decline. His hygiene has really gone down. In summertime, the smell is so disruptive — and it leaves a trail. We have a series of situations over the last few years where he would engage with female clientele — really putting himself into it. He didn’t look good, he didn’t smell good. Other times, he would be just singing horribly — he would have customers crying upstairs. He would say the pits in some of the food were poisoning him.”

The store’s staff know the man as “The Professor,” Bander said. In the Jan. 29 incident, the man was in the second-floor seating area and wanted to get a scissor from behind the store counter so that he could open up a raw vegan “chewie.” (The store did recently switch from folded-and-taped to pull-and-peel packaging for its chewies, but a scissor isn’t necessary, Bander said.) And there wasn’t any scissor behind the counter anyway, but the man did go behind it to look for one. Bander said the man was also cursing this time, which he had never done before. As the manager on duty states in the video, this all scared the cashier, which is why they called police.

The man used to do full grocery shopping at the store in the past but nowadays his routine has shrunken to getting three chewies per visit, said Bander.

“We have seen him decline over the years from normal shopping to disruption,” he said.

Bander said he only found out the man’s first name — Michael — last week, coincidentally the same day that The Villager called, inquiring about the incident. In fact, the man may actually have been a professor.

Bander said his understanding is that the police, after removing the man from the store, put him in an ambulance, though this is not shown on the witness’s video clip.

“We haven’t seen him since,” Bander said. “We’re at a deep crossroads as a business: You’ve known given customers for so long — what do you do?”

A Sixth Precinct community affairs officer said he wasn’t familiar with the incident. The Police Department’s press office did not respond to request for comment by deadline as to whether the arresting officers did everything properly in escorting the man out of the store. Bander said the Civilian Complaint Review Board had been contacted regarding the incident, though it wasn’t immediately known if there had been any finding of police wrongdoing.

The Villager was unable to contact Michael or a representative for comment by press time.

Watch the witness’s video here.