On August 11, 2019, Dustin Hice, a a former Hamptons bartender, sued the openly-gay CNN anchorman Don Lemon, 53, for a “demeaning, unprovoked and offensive assault” in July 2018 at Murf’s Backstreet Tavern in Sag Harbor, a part of the Hamptons where New York’s wealthiest residents have multi-million dollar weekend homes.
In the lawsuit obtained by Mediaite, Hice said he encountered Lemon at the tavern when he went out for drinks with friends following his shift at The Old Stove Pub in Bridgehampton, NY. Hice said he offered to buy Lemon a vodka drink called a “Lemon Drop” but Lemon declined. Hice said Lemon approached him later that night, where the assault took place. The lawsuit reads:
(Lemon) put his hand down the front of his own shorts, and vigorously rubbed his genitalia, removed his hand and shoved his index and middle fingers into (Hice’s) mustache and under (Hice’s) nose.
Lemon proceeded to ask questions about Hice’s sexual preferences, saying, “Do you like (vagina) or (penis)?” The lawsuit reads: “While saying this, Mr. Lemon continued to shove his fingers into (Hice’s) face with aggression and hostility.”
In the suit, Hice also said Lemon’s off-screen demeanor was in stark contrast to the “Me Too” advocate whom he often saw on TV: “When the cameras are turned off, however, Mr. Lemon’s actions are in stark and disturbing contrast to the public persona he attempts to convey.”
Lemon and CNN not just deny the allegation, they’re accusing Hice of blackmail. A CNN spokesperson told USA Today:
Don categorically denies these claims. The plaintiff in this lawsuit has previously displayed a pattern of contempt for CNN on his social media accounts. This claim follows his unsuccessful threats and demands for an exorbitant amount of money from Don Lemon.
But Hice’s former boss at the Old Stove Pub, George Gounelas, who is named in the lawsuit, has come forward as a witness corroborating Hice’s account.
Brian Flood reports for Fox News, August 15, 2019, that in an exclusive interview, George Gounelas, who managed Hice at the Old Stove Pub in July 2018, described what happened that night at Murf’s Backstreet Tavern:
“Dustin worked for me as a bartender [and] we went out after work one night. We were standing there and he said, ‘Hey, that’s Don Lemon.’ Murf’s is a place you go to drink after you’ve been out drinking. We had just gotten off of work. So that’s why we ended up there, because we worked in the restaurant business. So by the time everything is done, we can only hit a late-night spot.”
Gounelas said Hice approached Lemon to strike up a conversation but the CNN host declined. Gounelas and Hice then offered to buy Lemon a drink, which Lemon also declined. A few moments later, Lemon came up to them:
“Don Lemon has now come around the corner and is standing face to face with us. There is a beam, a pole, in the place. Don’s standing up against the pole, face to face with Dustin, I turn around and I’m standing right there between the two of them. He’s saying, ‘So you like me? Is that why you’re bothering me?’”
Gounelas said Hice responded, “Nah, man, I just wanted to say, ‘What’s up?’.” Gounelas couldn’t recall what Lemon said verbatim, but it was “along the lines of, ‘Do you like me? Is that why you’re bothering me, because you wanna f*ck me?'”
“He [Lemon] put his hands down his pants, inside his board shorts, grabbed his [genitals], and then came out with two fingers and, like, clipped Dustin’s nose up and down with two fingers asking ‘do you like p*ssy or d*ck?’”
Gounelas said he isn’t sure if Lemon, who is openly gay, was being confrontational or simply flirting:
“I guess it’s a little of both. If someone had done that to me, I probably would have punched him. But I think it might have been flirting. I think Dustin was more in shock… If someone was flirting with me like that I’d say, ‘alright man I’m not gay.’ I wouldn’t go up to a girl like that. It could be his way of flirting.”
Gounelas said he laughed during the incident, but Hice didn’t think it was a laughing matter:
“Dustin was in this shock mode saying, ‘Bro, did that just happen? That was disgusting.’ The whole thing is like, I go out in the Hamptons, I live out here, I have a restaurant, I get it, people get crazy. To me, it was just another thing. To [Dustin], he was like shocked. This is the only thing he could talk about, not in a good way, like ‘I can’t believe that sh*t happened.’”
Hice continued to work for Gounelas at the now-shuttered Old Stove Pub for the duration of the summer. Gounelas said the incident happened in the presence of others:
“The place was packed. I’m sure other people saw. It was a known thing in the Hamptons, not like this quiet thing. Everybody knew Dustin and what happened to him. Every time we went out, every bartender offered him a Lemon drop shot, making fun of him. He got some sh-t for it.”
Lemon offered a six-figure settlement before talks broke down and Hice filed the formal complaint, according to a source close to Hice’s attorney.
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