Artist Plans to Sue High Line Claiming a Park Employee Beat Him

By Mathew Katz on January 18, 2013 7:14am 

CHELSEA — An artist who claims that a High Line worker slammed him in the face with a walkie-talkie during a confrontation in the park last month is now preparing to sue the Friends of the High Line, along with the city and the Parks Department, DNAinfo.com New York has learned.

The artist, Brooklyn resident Iddi Amadu, 52, filed a notice of claim with the city comptroller's office after the Dec. 14 incident and said he plans to seek financial compensation for his injuries and destroyed artwork.

According to the Dec. 27 notice of claim, Amadu was trying to leave the park via an elevator at West 16th Street about 5 p.m. when Kenya Robinson, 32, a paid maintenance employee of the Friends of the High Line, tried to block Amadu's path.

"I said, 'Stay away from me, don't come close to me,'" Amadu said, recalling his conversation with Robinson. "But the next thing I knew, it was 'Bam! Bam! Bam!' A walkie-talkie to my face."

Amadu said he was knocked to the ground, bleeding, and had to be taken away in an ambulance. Robinson also allegedly pushed over Amadu's cart of still-wet paintings, damaging them, according to the notice of claim.

The claim also said that because of his injuries, Amadu "received 10 stitches, and suffers from headaches, dizziness, difficulty sleeping, fever and trauma."

Robinson was arrested at the scene and charged with assault, police said.

He is still employed by the Friends of the High Line, and a spokeswoman said the alleged attack was under review.

"We dispute Mr. Amadu's account of the incident," said Kate Lindquist, a spokeswoman for Friends of the High Line.

"We expect all facts to come out in the course of our review, which we will not comment on out of respect for the process."

Amadu said he was handcuffed while in the ambulance after the incident. Later, after receiving medical treatment, he said he was held at the 10th Precinct for three hours before being released without being charged.

Police had no record of Amadu being arrested or charged in the incident.

Amadu, who frequently goes to the High Line both to paint and to sell his artwork, claims he has been sworn at by park workers in the past, and he said they tell park visitors not to buy his artwork.

He has not filed any formal complaints about the earlier alleged harassment, though he said he has a legal First Amendment right to sell his artwork in the park, and that he has the required tax identification number.

"The reason why they don't want us to be there is because we don't pay this park. The rest of the people who sell food, they pay to be here," said Amadu, an immigrant from Ghana who now lives in Brooklyn.

"I don't understand why this park has to be like a privately owned business."

Amadu's lawyer, Julie Milner, said the alleged prior incidents and the fact that Robinson is still employed by Friends of the High Line points to a "conspiracy" to keep Amadu from using the park.

She added that because the High Line is run as a public-private partnership, both Friends of the High Line and the city are responsible for unspecified monetary damages to compensate Amadu for his injuries, his destroyed artwork and his pain and suffering.

"The city has not seen the papers yet, but these are merely allegations until proven otherwise," a spokeswoman for the city's Law Department said in a statement.

"Just to be clear, though, Park Regulations allow First Amendment vendors to sell on the Highline at designated spots on a 'first-come, first-serve' basis. So long as he complies with the rules, Mr. Amadu is allowed to sell his art."

The Parks Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Amadu said he returned to the High Line for the first time since the incident on Monday, but saw his alleged attacker and decided to leave instead of risking a confrontation. 

"The park is a beautiful place — I like to paint there because I can see the water," he said.

"I just don't like how it's run."

Milner, who reached out to Amadu after the alleged attack was first reported on the blog A Walk in the Parksaid she hoped the lawsuit would draw attention to a common criticism of the park — that it's largely for new, wealthy residents of the city.

"This isn't about money — this is about making sure the park is open to anyone," Milner said.

"This is everybody's park. It's not just a park for the rich."

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