Yesterday afternoon we got a phone call from Saverio "Sam" Pugliese, the frozen-yogurt company owner who repeatedly yelled "White Lives Matter!" and "I hope you get raped" at protesters before hitting a woman in the face with her own camera during Wednesday's Freddie Gray, Jr. solidarity march.
Betty Yu, a protestor attempting to photograph Pugliese with her Canon T21, sustained facial bruising and redness when Pugliese shoved her camera into her face, causing the screen to crack, according to the NYPD. The incident took place outside of Momoya sushi restaurant in Chelsea.
Yu recalls that Pugliese stormed out of the restaurant and accosted the protesters. She said, "I could see his hands flailing. He was charging towards the crowd."
Pugliese recalls things differently. He told us that he was waiting outside the restaurant for a table when he noticed what he believed to be a bomb on the sidewalk. "I thought I saw a bomb on the corner," he said. "And I was trying to help people without getting hurt." He went on to describe the bomb in detail. "It was a big black tube filled with neon lights and it was very heavy. It was like a telescope, basically."
Pugliese said that he feared for the safety of the protestors who were "trying to protest peacefully," and "grabbed" a police officer to inspect the situation. Things became tense when, he alleges, a Lieutenant started taking pictures of him. Then someone, he's not sure who, ran off with the "bomb." Pugliese began to walk down the block in the direction the bomb-toter had fled. When he turned back towards the restaurant, Pugliese recalls, "I had like 50 people taking pictures of me. I was flipping out because I was so scared." Here's Pugliese's response to Yu's allegations of verbal and physical abuse:
Some girl starts yelling at me, and I guess I [said] 'God forbid if you get raped, who are you going to call? You're going to call the cops, right? So just be nice to them.' Then some Asian girl is taking a picture of me and I turn, and my elbow or my hand pushed the camera away. That's what happened. I didn't assault anybody. I didn't hurt anybody.
The shove, as far as we know, was not captured on video. However, this cell phone video, taken by another protestor who was on the scene, captures a man saying "I hope you get raped." He's on the left side of the frame.
Pugliese denied allegations that he shouted "White lives matter!" He was also sure to remind us that he doesn't have it in for photographers, in large part because he also owns Retna, an independent photo agency. "I'll be honest, I own a company called Retna. I respect all photographers," he said. "And we do the best we can to keep it alive. I understand what they do. I understand the rights that they have."
As for peaceful protests, he supports those, too. "They're right to protest in peace," he said. "At the end of the day, if we can't protest, what do we have? [Protesting] is what made this country great. People come here so they can voice their opinions."
Especially when it comes to telescope-shaped bombs. Pugliese said, "They tell you, 'You see something, you say something'? I was just trying to tell them [the police and protesters] that there was a bomb or something. I guess maybe you can't say anything. I ended up getting locked up for nothing."
UPDATE: Be Active Holdings issued the following statement on Monday afternoon:
We were incredibly distressed to learn that one of our executives was involved in a verbal altercation during a protest in New York City this past week. Be Active Holdings has a zero tolerance policy for any sexist or hateful language. We believe in equality and respect at every level. Therefore, and as a result of our core values, effective immediately, Sam Pugliese will step down as President, and our Vice President, Joseph Rienzi, will assume the role of interim President. The beliefs of our company are rooted in promoting a complete healthy and active lifestyle for all. We pledge to all that we will stay committed to our philosophy and mission in striving to create a happier and healthier world.
Pugliese was president of Be Active Holdings, not owner, as was previously reported.