Haitian, food truck, Virginia, lawsuit

Haitian Couple Embroiled In Dispute With Virginia Town Over Food Truck

The couple has filed a lawsuit claiming Parksley town officials have subjected them to harassment and intimidation.

A Haitian couple in Virginia has filed a lawsuit, claiming that they were subjected to harassment and intimidation in the town of Parksley, leading them to shut down their popular food truck. According to NBC News, Clemene Bastien and Thesler Benoir allege that even members of the city council were involved in the harassment, with one council member reportedly cutting the food truck’s water line and telling them to “Go back to your own country!”

Speaking to NBC News through an interpreter, Bastien said, “When we first opened, there were a lot of people” ordering food. “And the day after, there were a lot of people. And then…they started harassing us.”

According to the couple’s lawsuit, Parksley passed an edict banning food trucks that they felt was directly aimed at them. The pair also claim that they were threatened with fines and incarceration when they raised concerns about the town’s actions. Bastien and Benoir are being represented by the Institute for Justice, a law firm that alleged that the old railroad town with a population of 800 executed a “string of abuses” against their clients.

According to the lawsuit, “If Theslet and Clemene were not of Haitian descent, Parksley’s town government would not have engaged in this abusive conduct.”

Meanwhile, the town’s council has retained the services of Pender & Coward, who say that the couple’s allegations are “simply not true.” Furthermore, Pender & Coward claim that instead of applying for a conditional use permit, the couple chose to sue. They also maintain that the council member who they allege cut their water supply actually cut an illegal sewage line after the food truck dumped grease into the sewer, causing damage to the city’s sewage system. Anne Lauren and Richard Matthews, attorneys for Pender & Coward, told NBC News that they believe their client will win the case, “We expect to prevail once the evidence is presented.”

According to Jeff Parks, an Accomack County Board of Supervisors member, Parksley “has welcomed any business which operates within the rules.” Parks also told NBC News, “It’s disheartening to see a town that is so open to everyone and welcoming new businesses into its storefronts to be mischaracterized,” Parks said. “We have multiple Haitian businesses, so it wouldn’t make sense that this one was being targeted.”

The pair running the food truck maintain that they have been singled out in the mainly white town. Bastien told NBC News, “We did everything we’re supposed to do.” According to the lawsuit, the town initially welcomed the food truck. However, after town council member Henry Nicholson objected to the food truck because it might interfere with the profitability of his local business, the council banned food trucks in October 2023, except for special events. According to Mayor Frank Russell, it was not supposed to affect the couple’s food truck until their one-year business license expired.

However, according to the lawsuit, Parksley changed their tune once the Institute for Justice got involved. The town then claimed that food trucks had always been illegal due to the town zoning laws and said they would begin collecting a daily fine of $250. They threatened to sentence the pair to 30 days in jail for each day the food truck remained open. As a result, the couple hastily closed the food truck. Bastien told NBC News that the pair are now playing a waiting game. “We’re waiting to see what justice we’re going to get,” Bastien said. “And then we’ll see if we reopen.”

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