May 22, 2019
An NYPD sergeant who was sued at least six times in 2018 is being sued again, this time by a group of four who claim the officer unconstitutionally arrested them during J’Ouvert last year, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
In the early morning hours of Sept. 1, 2018, Michael Demas, who leads a steel drum band called Hearts of Steel, was arrested along with Catherine Nunes, Gwynn Glasgow and Jennifer Frederick at a pan yard in East Flatbush.
Pan yards are meetings in NYPD-approved spaces where steel drum bands can practice their music. Hearts of Steel was practicing for a steel band competition during J’Ouvert called Panorama. A crowd had gathered, listening to the music and eating food provided by Frederick and Nunes.
“I don’t know what happened. They [the cops] came to the yard, the pan yard. That’s where we was handcuffed,” said Michael Demas, who is unsure if he will attend J’Ouvert or if his band will play at Panorama this year, due to his apprehension of the police.
The arrests were orchestrated by Alan Chau, a sergeant in East Flatbush’s 67th Precinct, according to the lawsuit. Chau was named in at least six other lawsuits in 2018 alone, according to data from The Legal Aid Society.
The NYPD did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Demas was arrested for obstruction of governmental administration, according to the lawsuit. The three women were arrested for operating an unlicensed bottle club. They all deny providing, consuming, or selling alcohol at the event. Demas denies impairing governmental administration in any way.
While there may have been alcohol at the pan yard where Hearts of Steel was practicing, Demas and the women say that all the food they were serving was free and that the event was not for profit. The law against operating an unlicensed bottle club requires that it be for profit.
Three of the lawsuits against Chau accused him of arresting people unconstitutionally for operating an unlicensed bottle club.
The four plaintiffs were taken to the 67th Precinct and were in custody for about 24 hours before being released on the morning of Sept. 2, 2018, according to the lawsuit. They all had their cases dismissed within six months.
The 67th Precinct was the third most-sued precinct in New York City between January 2015 and June 2018, according to CAPstat data. It also had the slowest response time to 911 calls in all of Brooklyn last year.
Demas – who is from Trinidad and has lived in New York for more than 30 years – believes that West Indian people, especially during J’Ouvert, are unfairly policed. “We don’t really get certain privileges or we always get the bottom of it. It’s very, very tough,” he said. “The police are on a crusade to do away with [J’Ouvert]. All we tried to do is just live our culture in a different place.”
“We hope that this lawsuit will put an end to the pattern and practice of reckless and unconstitutional policing by Sergeant Chau and other officers of the 67th precinct,” said Abraham Rubert-Schewel, the attorney representing the plaintiffs.
“J’Ouvert is an incredibly important cultural event for the Carribean community, and the vast majority of participants are non-criminal and non-violent,” Rubert-Schewel added. “The arrests in this case of a 40-year-old, 58-year-old, 65- and 71-year-old, while watching a steel band perform, are perfect examples of the overpolicing that can accompany J’Ouvert.”
The Sergeants Benevolent Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment.