Federal prosecutors today continued to hammer local cops for failing to intercede when Top Chef host Padma Lakshi and her staff were allegedly shoved and berated with an onslaught of vile and racist insults by Boston Teamsters three years ago. Four Teamsters are the subject of an extortion trial that completed its first week of testimony.
Throughout the first week of the trial, prosecutors have put on witnesses who complained the the local cops “did nothing” as the Teamsters showered cast and crew with racist and sexist taunts. Denigrating the police, from the suburb of Milton, MA, is key to the prosecution’s case because the cops will likely be the defendants’ best defense, since the police didn’t witness anything from the Teamsters that warranted their arrest that day in June 2014.
'Top Chef' Teamsters Trial: Second Producer Testifies About Incident That 'Terrified' Padma Lakshmi
Despite the vile language — and alleged threats to smash in the face of the show’s host as she crossed the picket line — local police assigned to keep order made no arrests, even though the tires of more than a dozen vehicles belonging to the production company and its crew had been slashed. Photos of the tires were shown in court for the first time today, but the defendants are not being charged with vandalism, nor with saying bad words. Several prosecution witnesses have also acknowledged that the most violence that occurred was chest and belly bumping between the Teamsters and the show’s production assistants, who greatly outnumbered the picketers.
“I got bumped from behind,” Ian Buchanan, a PA on the show, testified today. “I didn’t see who hit me. A group of men cornered me. The police saw the skirmish. He told me to leave them alone. I was confused because I didn’t start the altercation.”
Asked about the police response, Dan Kendrick, another show PA, testified that the only policeman he saw on the set was “very nonchalant, chatting with Teamsters and crew.” And when he showed him the photos of the slashed tires, he said the cop “didn’t think it was a slashing. He didn’t want to put any effort into it.”
Ryan Turpin, a second assistant director, said that he heard numerous racial slurs including “n*gger, sand n*gger, spic and f*ggot.” He also said that one of the accused threatened to beat him up. “You’re lucky the cops are here,” he said one of the Teamsters yelled at him. “Go back to L.A. you f*cking f*ggot. We’ll kick the sh*t out of you.”
“I was scared,” he said, “but in my heart, I didn’t think they would be so foolish to do something to me.” He said he witnessed the “police letting them impede the driveway” and blocking the entrance to the restaurant where the Bravo show was filming a cooking competition “until the police pulled them back.”
Despite all this, however, Turpin said under cross-examination: “I understand their point — why they were there.” That didn’t help the prosecution’s case, which claims they were there to shake the company down for no-show jobs, so on re-direct, he was asked: “Did you understand their point about slurs? Did you understand their treats of physical harm?” He answered “no” to both questions.
The defendants say they were there to win a union contract and to get real jobs for their union brothers and sisters, which was supported by a Bravo executive who said yesterday that the union rejected his offer to pay the Teamsters “double” just to go away.
U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock, meanwhile, threatened to throw one of the defendants in jail for contempt for allegedly violating his order banning everyone involved in the case from talking to reporters. He also threatened to revoke this reporter’s press credentials for “stalking” prospective jurors after they’d been discharged from jury duty.
The judge on Tuesday ordered the defendants and their lawyers not to talk to reporters during the trial after one of the defendants had given an interview to a local media outlet before the trial began. He cited section 82.2B of the local rules of U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts as the authority for denying defendants their rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution. The rule states: “In a widely publicized or sensational criminal or civil case, the Court, on motion of either party or on its own motion, may issue a special order governing such matters as extrajudicial statements by parties and witnesses likely to interfere with the rights of the accused or the litigants to a fair trial by an impartial jury, the seating and conduct in the courtroom of spectators and news media representatives, the management and sequestration of jurors and witnesses, and any other matters which the court may deem appropriate for the inclusion in such an order.”
The rule is intended to protect the “rights of the accused” to a fair trial, but the judge believes it also gives him the authority to bar defendants from expressing their views to reporters. Unknown to defendant Daniel Redmond — one of the four accused Boston Teamsters — that also includes posting comments on Facebook. The night before the the judges’ order, Redmond blasted the unions’ leader, Local 25’s Sean O’Brien.
“I would like to make something clear!!,” he wrote. “Sean O’Brien is not secretly funding our defense in any way shape or form. You are a liar, Sean!! It’s too bad that he is lying to good Teamsters that are close to him about us, blaming us for the Top Chef mess when he knows what he did! And trust me, when it’s over, we have everything to prove and back up what we say!”
Redmond continued posting about the case after the judge’s order, but those posts have since been removed. The posting was brought to the judge’s attention by prosecutors. “What am I supposed to do about this?” he asked, clearly livid, at a contempt hearing after today’s court session. “My order couldn’t have been any clearer.”
It wasn’t all that clear to Redmond, whose attorney, Oscar Cruz Jr, said he thought it only applied to talking to reporters, not posting on Facebook.
“Does Mr. Redmond think he’s going to red-line the order I issued?” the judge demanded to know. “He didn’t understand what extrajudicial statements mean?”
Apparently not, his lawyer answered. “He misunderstood,” Cruz told the judge. “He is completely clear now. He understands his mistake and it won’t happen again.”
Even so, the judge said he will decide after the trial whether to incarcerate Redmond for his alleged contempt of court. “I’m staying action with respect to contempt,” Woodlock announced from the bench, saying he will consider “incarceration at a later point.” Defendant Michael Ross also posted on on the same site — Support THE TEAMSTER 4 — after the judge’s ruling on Monday, as did defendant John Fidler’s father, a paralegal working on the case. And the judge said he’d consider throwing them all in jail too.
After excoriating the defendants, the judge then lashed out at this reporter, accusing him of “stalking jurors” and “chasing them down the hallway” after they’d been dismissed. “It’s outrageous!”
During jury selection Monday, the judge cautioned prospective jurors that “some of the evidence may involve racial and ethnic slurs” and that “sometimes there are hot-button issues that disturb people when they’re exposed to them.” He then asked whether any of the prospective jurors thought they could not could not reach a fair verdict because of this, and about two-thirds raised their hands. After the judge discharged them from jury duty, Deadline quietly asked several jurors why they’d asked to be dismissed. Released from jury duty, they are free to speak, and to be interviewed.
“I don’t respect anyone who uses that kind of language,” one of the dismissed jurors told Deadline in the hallway outside the courtroom.
Court security officer Robert Sullivan then told Deadline that dismissed jurors could not be interviewed in the hallway — that other prospective jurors might overhear what was being said — and instructed this reporter to interview them in the nearby staircase.
“I’m not OK with homophobia or racism at all,” said another dismissed juror in the staircase. Both comments were included in Monday’s story about the first day of the trial.
Sullivan then told Deadline that dismissed jurors couldn’t be interviewed in the staircase either — that they would have to be interviewed out on the street outside the courthouse.
Deadline informed Craig Nicewicz, the Court’s operations manager, of Sullivan’s demand, and he said the officer was “out of line.”
Sullivan, however, filed a Court Facility Incident Report, checking a box that described this reporter as a “disruptive person,” and stating that “Mr. Robb was chasing after jurors who had been interviewed as potential juror,” and warning “that if he became disruptive in the courthouse, his credential could be taken and he could be banned from the courthouse.”
At the end of today’s hearing, the judge said he will hold a show-cause hearing Monday to determine whether or not to take away this reporter’s press credentials — the only benefit of which is to allow reporters to take cell phones and lap tops into the courthouse.
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