Hipster Coffee Shop Owner Destroyed Evidence in Sex Assault Case, Judge Says

Kev Robertson / Handout
Kev Robertson / Handout

The owner of a Brooklyn coffee and barber shop who was accused of sexually assaulting one of his former employees came under fire this week after a federal judge ruled he destroyed video evidence vital to an ongoing lawsuit.

Brian Burnam’s excuse for not preserving evidence after one of his employees at Cotter Barber sued him in 2019? He thought it was a gag.

“This is this person that has gone unchecked for a very long period,” the employee, Joshua “Jude” Ahamed told The Daily Beast on Friday. “He did something fucked up and it’s all so wrong. It feels good to get a win.”

The ruling capped Ahamed’s five-year legal battle against Burnam, who he alleges repeatedly groped him during work hours, monitored his movements on the store’s security camera, and called him a gay slur during New York City’s Pride parade weekend. During his two-month employment in the summer of 2019 as a Cotter Barber barista, Ahamed alleges Burnam non-consensually touched his butt at least four times—and once even tapped his genitals with a “large glass bottle” in front of another co-worker.

“Jude stop being gay. Be gay but… less gay,” Burnam wrote in a June 29, 2019, text message to Ahmed and another employee after using a slur, according to a screenshot in the lawsuit.

A screenshot of text messages from Brian Burnam to Jude Ahamed

June 29, 2019, text messages from Burnam to Ahamed


Ahamed, who identifies as bisexual, started the process to file a lawsuit four days later—and he quit on July 6. His lawyer, Zach Liszka, served Burnam via email in July notice to preserve the video and any relevant evidence in the case.

In a later deposition, Burnam admitted that he read Liszak’s email, but believed it was a prank. Later, however, he admitted apologizing to Ahamed for making him feel uncomfortable after receiving the motion to preserve evidence and the lawsuit. That November, Burnam and Cotter Barber were sued in federal court.

But for years, Ahamed’s lawyers allege Burnam has been evading his legal requirement to hand over videos that allegedly show the sexual harassment, offering up inconsistent explanations as to their whereabouts. Last March, Ahamed’s lawyers even filed a motion seeking spoliation sanctions against Burnam, alleging he “deliberately destroyed security camera recordings.”

A year later, the court ruled that Burnam had destroyed the footage. This week, after another sanctions motion from Ahamed’s team after still not receiving the evidence, Brooklyn federal Judge Cheryl Pollak issued a scathing order that slammed Burnam for his misconduct.

“I think Burnam’s excuse that it was a prank is probably the dumbest excuse I have heard in my 10 years of practicing law,” Liszka said. “The judge threw the book at him.”

Jude Ahamed working at Cotter Barber

Ahamed working at Cotter Barber

Zachary J. Liszka

Pollak found that Burnam intentionally destroyed the evidence he was told to preserve—even after he was warned that the footage would be automatically deleted from the system. She also called his prank claim to be “facially implausible.”

“Indeed, it was not until he was forced by Court Order that Burnam notified the Court that the recordings were taped over 60-90 days after the litigation had commenced,” the order states. “Burnam’s inconsistencies, coupled with his counsel’s belated disclosure of the fact that the tapes were no longer accessible, further support the conclusion that Burnam acted with the intent to deprive plaintiff of the video evidence.”

The judge ruled that a future jury in the case should, therefore, be “instructed that they may infer the spoliated evidence was unfavorable” to him. Michael L. Ferch, who is representing Burnam and Cotter Barber, told The Daily Beast that the “defendants believe once a jury is presented with all the evidence it will find in their favor, and look forward to their day in court.”

A trial date has not been set yet for the lawsuit, though Liszka hopes to bring it to a jury this year.

“This was not an easy thing to go ahead and call someone out and it sucks because of the amount of gaslighting and questioning that I have been put through,” Ahamed said. “I look forward to closure.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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