National

Footage reveals new details in tourist melee at N.Y.C. restaurant

Three Black women from Texas were arrested, but a lawyer for one called it “mutual combat” after they were called a racial slur.


NEW YORK — New information emerged Saturday about a brawl outside a popular Italian restaurant in Manhattan that raises questions about initial accounts of the altercation, in which the police said they arrested three women from Texas after they attacked a hostess who had asked them to provide proof of their vaccination status.

In a statement Thursday, police said that they had responded to an assault in front of Carmine’s on the Upper West Side of Manhattan involving a 24-year-old hostess, who told them that she got into a dispute with three women after she requested to see their COVID-19 vaccination cards. The three women were charged with assault and criminal mischief.

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But Saturday, lawyers for both Carmine’s and the women said that the three women had, in fact, provided documentation of COVID vaccinations. The altercation began after two men who joined their party several minutes later were unable to provide proof, the lawyers for both sides said.

Security camera footage reviewed by The New York Times shows three women, who were with several other people, being ushered into the restaurant after showing documentation near the entrance. Several minutes later, three men arrive to join the group, but only one of the three shows a vaccination card, lawyers for both sides said. A short time later, after the three women, who are Black, have joined the men outside, the fight breaks out.

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Justin Moore, a lawyer who represents one of the women, Kaeita Nkeenge Rankin, said that the hostess used a racial slur and spoke condescendingly to the patrons, suggesting that their vaccination cards were fake. He also said the Texas women claim that the hostess assaulted them.

“The hostess begins spouting out derogatory comments, and speaking with two of the women; they claim that the N-word is being spewed out” Moore said in an interview. “They also heard the hostess say, ‘Yeah, you guys can leave my restaurant,’ or something very aggressive like that. When Dr. Rankin hears that, she turns around and addresses the hostess. She tells her: ‘This isn’t your restaurant. You’re just a staff member here. Please address us with respect.’”

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He called the altercation “mutual combat.”

The restaurant denied the allegations that racism played a role in the conflict.

“Nothing about this incident suggests race was an issue,” Carolyn Richmond, a lawyer who represents the restaurant, wrote in an email. “The pandemic has added a key responsibility to the host position — ensuring the safety and health of all employees and guests by checking for proof of vaccination in compliance with New York City law.”

“The idea that anyone would become violent as an employee performs this necessary function is anathema to New York, the hospitality industry, and New Yorkers in general,” she added. “As all of the women showed proof of vaccination they were all permitted to enter and were in fact seated inside.”

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Amid the dueling accounts, a Black Lives Matter activist said his group planned to demonstrate outside Carmine’s on Monday to protest the treatment of Black patrons. “Restaurants are using vaccine mandates to enforce their racist beliefs and excluding Black patrons,” said Hawk Newsome, the co-founder and chair of Black Lives Matter Greater New York.

Restaurants across New York City have been grappling with how best to adhere to the new mandate from Mayor Bill de Blasio that requires people to prove they have received at least one dose of a virus vaccine before dining indoors. The city began enforcing the rule Monday.

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Most of the burden of enforcement has fallen on restaurant employees, particularly front-of-house staff members who are typically the first to engage with customers.

In addition to Rankin, 44, police identified the other women who were arrested as Tyonnie Keshay Rankin, 21, of Humble, Texas, and Sally Rechelle Lewis, 49, of Houston. They were released with a court date of Oct. 5.

In the Thursday statement, police said the three women had struck the hostess, who has not been identified, “multiple times with closed fists.” It also said that the hostess had sustained “bruises and scratches to her face, chest, and arm.” She is resting at home, a representative for the restaurant said.

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The footage reviewed by the Times does not include sound, but it suggests tension was already brewing between the hostess and the patrons before the melee began.

In the footage, after the two men were denied entry, a server, wearing a white apron, comes out and talks to the hostess, making hand gestures as if explaining something. Then, footage shows the party of six leaving the restaurant. The hostess leans forward and says something, and the server pulls her back with her arms around her shoulder and gives it a tap, possibly to prevent her from engaging with them.

One of the women, Kaeita Nkeenge Rankin, says something to the hostess, pointing a finger at her before getting into what appears to be a verbal dispute with other restaurant staff members, shaking her head. She and the others are led away by another employee, who is Black. Moments later, the party is led back inside the restaurant by its manager. The party crosses paths with the hostess who exits the restaurant.

Footage from inside the hallway shows the hostess brushing past the women as she exits, at which point the women appear to do a double-take before pursuing her out the door. It is not clear what occurred in that moment or what might have motivated them to follow her.

Footage from outside the restaurant shows the hostess coming out. Seconds later, one of the patrons, who is wearing glasses, goes up to her from behind, speaks into her ear before shoving her and pulling at her collar. The hostess pushes back and claws back while others try to break them apart.

The melee moves off-camera, and one of the attackers is hauled away by one of the servers and one of the men who wasn’t allowed in, while staff pull the hostess away, trying to calm her down.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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