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NYC Subway Performers Defend Art of Busking

BROOKLYN (CN) - Police harassment of New York City subway performers defies the tradition of underground busking that dates back to 1985, a federal complaint alleges.

Andrew Kalleen, James Woodard and James Gallagher filed the action Tuesday, saying that "buskers feel they have been specifically targeted by supervising officers within the MTA police administration."

"Despite the law being clear for over three decades New York City police officers continue to harass, evict, assault and arrest New Yorkers for playing music underground in perfectly legal circumstances," the complaint states.

Kalleen and the others point to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's own Rules of Conduct as permitting public speaking, campaigning, leafleting and artistic performances in the tubes beneath the Big Apple.

Officers allegedly approached Kalleen at least four times between 2012 and 2014 for playing his guitar on subway platforms in Williamsburg and downtown Brooklyn.

In October 2012, he says a cop told him to stop playing his guitar because his new lieutenant working directly above where Kalleen was playing "was tired of hearing it."

A year later, he says another officer got in Kalleen's face while he played his guitar and told Kalleen to stop or he would "go to jail."

Kalleen says he mentioned the law and kept on strumming when another officer approached him a year later and ordered him to stop playing. The officer allegedly responded, "The law has changed." Kalleen got a pair of summonses, both of which were dismissed, he says.

The musician was again playing his guitar on the subway platform in October 2014 when he was ordered by another officer to stop, according to the complaint.

Kalleen's insistence about his performance rights allegedly prompted the officer to pull out the MTA's rulebook and read the pertinent section out loud.

He says the officer then shouted at him to stop playing.

But Kalleen kept going, and was then "rushed" by several officers, one of whom banged Kalleen's guitar into his mouth, busting his lip.

He was arrested and held for five hours, he says, but the two tickets he received were never prosecuted.

Woodard was playing his guitar, and Gallagher was reciting poetry, on a subway platform in November 2013 when they say they were approached by Officer Herbert Platero, named as a defendant to the complaint.

They say they were arrested after the officer told them: "There was a memo out to clean you guys up."

Gallagher was released two hours later, he says. Woodard claims he was held overnight before being released. Both say all charges were dismissed.

Woodard and Gallagher first sued the city and the officer in Kings County Supreme Court last year, but that lawsuit did not mention performances or busking.

They're now seeking to combine their state case with Kalleen's federal suit.

The NYPD declined to comment on what it called "an active investigation."

The three artists seek unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for civil rights violations, assault and false arrest.

They are represented by Paul Hale.

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