Comedian Dave Chappelle probably won’t find the latest news from Santa Fe very funny.
Christian Englander, the man who threw a banana peel at Chappelle during what turned into a highly publicized show at the Lensic Performing Arts Center more than three years ago, has filed a lawsuit against the funnyman and his presumed bodyguard.
Englander, 33, alleges that a man acting as Chappelle’s bodyguard struck him twice in the face “without provocation” while he was being restrained by Lensic security after the incident.
The alleged assault happened “under the clear direction of defendant Chappelle,” Englander wrote in the lawsuit, which he filed last week in state District Court without an attorney.
“Defendant Chappelle had a duty to plaintiff to adequately and properly hire, train, supervise and discipline his security personnel and other employees and agents to ensure that members of the public were not subjected to assault, battery or excessive use of force,” Englander wrote.
Englander did not return messages seeking comment.
In the lawsuit, he claims he suffered various damages as a result of the alleged assault, including unspecified nonmedical expenses, physical and emotional pain and suffering, lost income and earning capacity and “loss of enjoyment of life.”
He is seeking punitive and other damages from Chappelle “in such amount as may be found appropriate.”
The alleged assault, which hadn’t been publicly reported by Englander until he filed his suit, is the latest twist in the years-old incident that generated national and international headlines, as well as local discussions about race and racism.
And Chappelle, known for incisive social commentary, kicked off his Netflix comedy specials last year with a story about what he called “banana-gate.”
Englander, who is white, claimed he had no racial motive in mind when he threw the banana peel at Chappelle, who is black.
Englander, a self-described eccentric and jester, said he threw the banana peel after Chappelle made fun of his friend.
Efforts to reach Chappelle for comment were unsuccessful. The Gersh Agency, a booking agency that represents Chappelle, did not return messages seeking comment.
After the incident, then-Mayor Javier Gonzales expressed outrage about the way Englander treated Chappelle.
“I am appalled that anyone from Santa Fe, a place that has embraced diversity for 400 years, would ever treat a guest to our city this way,” the mayor wrote on his Facebook page. “The racism inherent in his actions is unacceptable. It doesn’t represent who we are, and we’re committed to taking action that reflects our true values by prosecuting those responsible to the fullest extent of the law.”
Dianna Delling, a spokeswoman for the Lensic, said the alleged assault against Englander was news to her.
“We’ve never heard that allegation before,” she said Monday.
But Roderick Thompson, an attorney who represented Englander after Englander was charged with battery and disturbing the peace, said he intended to bring up the alleged assault at his client’s trial.
However, the case never went that far. The District Attorney’s Office dropped the charges against Englander because Chappelle was unwilling to participate in the prosecution, even though he initially said he wanted to press charges.
“My client did disclose that information to me at the time,” Thompson recalled. “But there was just no opportunity to use that information during the criminal trial. I’m sure that he’s been pretty open about it.”
A police report filed after the incident makes no mention of Englander reporting that he was the victim of an assault. Thompson said he doesn’t find that too surprising, saying city police gave Chappelle preferential treatment, including allowing Chappelle to “basically interrogate” Englander at the police station.
“We know that Mr. Chappelle is a big celebrity, and I’m pretty sure that the city will be happy to do whatever it can to accommodate someone of that stature,” he said. “I know from my own practice that there are various occasions when not 100 percent of what happened or what was said was put into the report.”
In 12 years of practicing criminal law, Thompson said, he’s never heard of anyone being allowed to confront the person who allegedly accosted them while they’re in police custody.
“The police said that that was something that they do sometimes,” he said. “We should all get treated so well.”
Thompson said he’s glad the charges against his client were dropped and that his record is clean, but that he had hoped to go to trial “just so that everything possible could come out.”
“No one is above the law, even incredibly hilarious comedians like Dave Chappelle … and his bodyguard,” he said. “Even if someone has done wrong, which is not something that I’m asserting, but even in that situation, people have rights and deserve not to be assaulted, especially when being restrained.”
Contact Daniel J. Chacón at 505-986-3089 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @danieljchacon.