Ragtime Star Prepares Lawsuit Against NYPD Over Wrongful Arrest

News   Ragtime Star Prepares Lawsuit Against NYPD Over Wrongful Arrest Alton Fitzgerald White, who filed a Notice of Claim with the City of New York in connection with an alleged wrongful arrest July 16, is preparing to sue the city, according to his American Civil Liberties Union attorney, Norman Siegel.

Alton Fitzgerald White, who filed a Notice of Claim with the City of New York in connection with an alleged wrongful arrest July 16, is preparing to sue the city, according to his American Civil Liberties Union attorney, Norman Siegel.

Attempts to reach a settlement have been unsuccessful, Siegel told Playbill On-Line.

"A lawsuit will be filed on his behalf unless the city decides they [sic] want to amicably settle this," Siegel told Playbill On-Line. "We've had discussions with city lawyers with the hope of resolving it, but as of Christmas 1999, that hasn't happened, and we've told them we'll go to Federal Court."

Siegel said his office was in the process of reviewing a second draft of the legal documents and that they could be filed in early January.

"We'll fight for damages," he said, "but when a person comes to the ACLU to hire an attorney, they aren't primarily after money -- what they are really after is systemic change." "It's not about the money," White told Playbill On-Line in September. "We are talking about civil rights, and you can't put a price on that, can you? The most important thing is to get some systemic changes. Racial profiling is happening right now, while we are talking. And it has to stop."

Siegel said he was optimistic about his client's case. "If we go to trial," Siegel said, "we have a very strong case and a superb client."

As reported earlier, the NYPD arrested White on the afternoon of July 16 near his home in Harlem after responding to a call about "four Hispanic men with guns."

"I opened the door for them," White recalled. "I was inside near the door when I saw them approaching and I actually quickened my pace so they wouldn't have to ring the bell. I thought, "Oh, people in uniforms are here," and I figured they might be paramedics or something, because there are a lot of older people in my building. Some of these people are friends of mine, people who have been there for forty or fifty years, and I have seen ambulances come to the building at times. I was trying to help.

"To go from welcoming the police with `hello' to being put up against the wall is a shock -- and that's an understatement." the popular star of Ragtime said.

White, who is African-American ("Dark-skinned African-American, thank you very much," he adds.), said the police told him they were looking for "four Hispanic men."

"To be immediately made a suspect and taken into custody, even though you do not fit the description is a shock," he said. "Even when I was in custody the police said, 'Yeah, your super was telling us you're the star of a show.' "

White was jailed briefly and missed performing on stage in a Broadway production due to the arrest episode.

"When I was sitting in that jail cell, I realized that my perception about good and justice would never be the same," he told The New York Times.

The police department apologized, but said the men fit the description of a tip about drug-dealing, and told The Times that two of the six men arrested -- not White's acquaintances -- were charged with criminal drug possession. Strip-searching is apparently routine in felony drug cases.