It is 2017, and a prominent New York City butcher allegedly gave a noose to a black deliveryman as a joke. In 2017, this still happened. On Wednesday, Joe Ottomanelli of the Ottomanelli & Sons Meat Market turned himself into police, surrendering to face charges of committing a hate crime.
On April 4—yes, this year, one month ago—Ottomanelli allegedly gave a yellow rope tied into a noose to Victor Sheppard. "Here is your gift," the 58-year-old told Sheppard, according to the Daily News. "You can put it around your neck and pull if you want to end it all. If you are feeling stressed out I can help you with it."
Sheppard was stressed out, and rightfully so. As soon as he left Ottomanelli & Sons, he stopped into the nearest police precinct to report the incident, and to hand over the hateful length of rope. "I started shaking," Sheppard told the news outlet. "He was laughing. I don't know what kind of joke that is."
According to Sheppard, this isn't the first time Ottomanelli has made a racially charged remark; he previously told Sheppard that "a few years ago," black people weren't allowed to ride in the front of city buses.
When he was first confronted about the incident, Ottomanelli told the Daily News that he was just kidding—because references to lynching are hilarious—and said that he didn't understand why handing a noose-shaped piece of rope to a black man would be considered racially insensitive. "We work with black people," Ottomanelli said at the time. "There's other black drivers that come here […] We weren't raised that way."
A month later, he'd abandoned the 'But I Have Black Friends' defense and was blaming another employee for the aggressively inappropriate rope. Ron Kuby, Ottomanelli's attorney, said that Paul Durango—a worker who has since been fired—actually gave Sheppard the noose, and that the men were laughing about it. Durango's attorney, Joe Mure, disputes this account, and is reportedly considering a countersuit for defamation of character. "The only reason why they could possibly be blaming him is to create an illusion that it was someone other [than] Joe Ottomanelli," Mure told the New York Post.
Kuby also said that he'd been a customer of Ottomanelli's for 30 years and his client had always "[interacted] with workers with dignity and good humor and without a trace of negativity" (and presumably he limited his noose-tying to those hours when Kuby wasn't in the store.)
Ottomanelli was released without bail on Wednesday, and Judge Phyllis Chu issued an order of protection, prohibiting him from having any contact with Sheppard. (Although Sheppard no longer makes deliveries to the store).
"This is an unfortunate circumstance that we are working to resolve immediately," Ottomanelli & Sons said in a statement to the media. "We are a family-owned business with over 50 years of service in the Village, and have the utmost respect for all of our employees and patrons."