Schenectady County Attorney Chris Gardner sent a letter Friday to the state Attorney General’s Office requesting an investigation of possible civil rights violations by the owner of a Schenectady ice cream stand.
Gardner wrote his letter in response to images that circulated this week on Facebook that were purported to be text messages by Bumpy’s Polar Ice owner David Elmendorf.
In the messages, Elmendorf allegedly used racial slurs and, in one message, wrote “I don’t hire black people,” according to Gardner’s letter to Attorney General Letitia James.
Gardner’s letter to James came on the heels of Elmendorf’s arrest this week on charges that he kept his business open despite a Schenectady County Department of Health order to close.
James Mermigis, lawyer for both Elmendorf and Bumpy’s, wrote Friday night in an email that his client “categorically denies each and every allegation of racism” and “currently employs and has employed in the past, young people of all races.”
“All of these racial allegations made by County Attorney, Christopher Gardner, are defamatory, hurtful and incredibly irresponsible,” Mermigis wrote. “We intend to take appropriate action against Schenectady County and Christopher Gardner.”
Gardner said this is the first time he’s ever asked the Attorney General’s Office to intervene in his 16 years as county attorney.
“Mr. Elmendorf’s total disregard for rule of law is shocking, unprecedented and I’ve never encountered anything like this in my career, which is nearly 40 years as an attorney,” Gardner said Friday in a phone interview. “We’re taking strong action because we think strong action is necessary for him.”
In the letter, Gardner wrote that Elmendorf’s alleged messages “would constitute violations of the NYS Human Rights Law and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
Gardner also cited Elmendorf’s “long history” of incidents, such as when he allegedly demolished a building in 2017 despite the state Department of Labor and the city of Schenectady issuing a stop-work order, along with his operation of Bumpy’s without a “valid Department of Health permit,” and his alleged attempts at destroying notices to cease operations.
“As for the health code violation, the county had deposited my client's check for the health permit in February 2020,” Mermigis wrote in his email to the Gazette Friday evening. “My client did not know of any violations until this past week and the violation that my client was arrested for was extremely minor. My client has hired a plumber to correct this issue this evening.
“The county of Schenectady is attempting to destroy my client's business and livelihood and there are no limits or lengths that the county will not go to in order to ruin my client's successful business and reputation.”
In a follow-up email, Mermigis added: “I am disgusted by the actions of the County Attorney.”
Later in his letter, Gardner includes screenshots of the text messages, which he said he discovered on Facebook two days before, as well as a Daily Gazette article on the building demolition and forms from Schenectady County Public Health Service’s detailing the business’ violations.
“We have the enforcement actions involving public health violations,” Gardner said Friday. “Separate, apart from that, there are potentially some civil rights violations involving employees or people who apply for employment at Bumpy’s that could be implicated beyond the scope of what the County Attorney’s Office would normally get involved in.”
On Sunday, protesters plan to gather from 4 to 6 p.m. and call for Bumpy’s to permanently shut down. The event, being called “Flag Down, Shut It Down,” is organized by All Of Us, a group of activists involved in the Black Lives Matter movement..
“There have been multiple complaints about blatant racism at Bumpy's,” the event page reads. “We are done with that! Black Lives Matter! We will not sit quietly by ever again. It is not acceptable and must be called out.”
Gardner said that what “distinguishes this particular case” is that Elmendorf “does not seem to believe he has to follow any laws, rules or regulations whatsoever.”