March 12, 2019 By Christian Murray
The owner of a Long Island City barbecue restaurant is suing Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer for defamation stemming from a series of tweets posted by the politician where he alleged the restaurateur had threatened him.
Josh Bowen, the owner of John Brown Smokehouse on 44th Drive, is seeking damages arguing that he didn’t threaten Van Bramer and that the councilmember took to twitter and filed a police report to discredit him and block his first amendment rights.
Bowen, who has been on a personal crusade to try and lure Amazon back to Long Island City, blames Van Bramer for killing the now-scrapped deal. Van Bramer was an outspoken critic of the e-commerce giant and its plan to open a headquarters in Long Island City.
The incident erupted March 1 after Bowen sent a series of texts to Van Bramer’s chief of staff Matthew Wallace. Wallace, who had known Bowen for years, had lived directly above the smokehouse until recently and they communicated often.
The text directed Wallace to tell Van Bramer to call John Schoettler, vice president of real estate for Amazon, and “apologize” for the collapsed deal.
Bowen had just come back from a trip to Seattle where he had spoken to Schoettler and urged him to reconsider the original plan, which was expected to bring between 25,000 and 40,000 jobs to the neighborhood.
“Call now and I can stop the growing forces that will end councilman VanJobkillers career,” reads part of the text.
“You can be at the back of the parade or in front of the firing squad,” Bowen’s text went on to say.
In the text, he requested that the council member “make the f—ing call. And let me know by four.”
Van Bramer took exception to the texts.
Josh Bowen, who recently went to Seattle to meet with Amazon sent this text today. It is several threats rolled into one. Demanding an elected official make a call to Amazon by a certain time – or else. This is disgusting. did others get this too? I don’t respond to threats. pic.twitter.com/Txtf53aaiN
— Jimmy Van Bramer (@JimmyVanBramer) March 1, 2019
The suit alleges that Van Bramer snapped a screen shot of the texts, cropped them to make it look like they were sent directly to him and then posted them.
Van Bramer described the texts on twitter as “several threats rolled into one.”
“Demanding an elected official make a call to Amazon by a certain time – or else. This is disgusting,” he said, adding, “I don’t respond to threats.”
He later tweeted that the text had been reported to the NYPD.
The suit says that Van Bramer then retweeted comments from his followers who criticized Bowen, and encouraged his followers to boycott Bowen’s business by retweeting those comments as well.
Bowen, by way of the John Brown Smokehouse twitter account, defended his texts later that day.
The suit says that Bowen had not threatened Van Bramer and that he was just exercising his right to free speech. It noted that the texts were not even sent to Van Bramer, but to Wallace—someone he knew well.
Bowen also alleges that Van Bramer characterized his free speech as criminal conduct to undermine him.
The suit says that Van Bramer filed a complaint with the NYPD even though he knew it wasn’t a threat. It references a Daily News article, where the councilmember is quoted as saying “’he doesn’t think Bowen is ‘capable of physical violence.’”
Bowen alleges that Van Bramer tweeted out the texts with the objective of “currying favor and sympathy as a ‘victim,’ and to deflect from the fact that Van Bramer was one of the prime instigators of the Amazon HQ2 departure debacle.”
Van Bramer described the lawsuit as “frivolous, without merit.” He said: “My chief of staff received an aggressive text message directed to me from Mr. Bowen, which I perceived to be threatening. I still do.”
Jeannine Chanes, the attorney representing Bowen, said that elected officials shouldn’t be filing police reports when a constituent says something they don’t like.
She said that she is considering filing a Freedom of Information request to find out how often Van Bramer has filed police reports alleging that he has been threatened by a constituent.
In March 2018, Van Bramer claimed that he was threatened by a bicycle advocate via a tweet. Van Bramer then used his own twitter account to discredit that person.
Meanwhile, Van Bramer was criticized last year by the Queens Anti-Gentrification Project (QAGP) for blocking them on social media. Van Bramer told Gothamist it was not about the first amendment but safety. “Criticism is not what we take exception to,” Van Bramer said. “The Queens Anti-Gentrification project have threatened me physically.”
Chanes said the elected officials should expect to be involved in heated debate with their constituents.
“Why is he so sensitive? I think it is because he wants to shut people up. New York is supposed to be rough and tough,” she said.