Former tennis star James Blake was casually standing outside a New York hotel when an undercover cop suddenly grabbed and threw him to the ground before handcuffing and leading him away, according to a surveillance video that police released Friday.
In the minute-long video, Blake doesn’t resist and doesn’t appear to the see the plainclothes officer rush him.
The NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau has interviewed Blake as part of an investigation, police spokesman Stephen Davis said in a statement, adding that a copy of the video was given to Blake’s attorney.
Blake vowed Friday to “use my voice to turn this unfortunate incident into a catalyst for change in the relationship between the police and the public they serve,” according to a statement.
“For that reason, I am calling upon the City of New York to make a significant financial commitment to improving that relationship, particularly in those neighborhoods where incidents of the type I experienced occur all too frequently,” Blake said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and police Comissioner William Bratton, in a statement, said that the incident was being investigated “to determine what contributed to the errors made, who may be held accountable, and what we can learn to prevent these mistakes from being repeated in the future.”
The statement said the administration has invested nearly $29 million to retrain about 22,000 officers. In addition, new neighborhood policing efforts have reduced civilian complaints against police to the lowest levels in 14 years, the statement said.
The video’s release comes one day after Bratton said he apologized to Blake, whom police mistakenly tackled and handcuffed in a sting operation that went awry outside a Grand Hyatt hotel.
“I spoke to Mr. Blake a short time ago and personally apologized for yesterday’s incident,” Bratton said in a statement Thursday.
De Blasio also called Blake to apologize.
Blake was standing Wednesday in front of the Grand Hyatt in Midtown Manhattan when a plainclothes police officer tackled him. Blake was waiting for a car to pick him up and take him to the U.S. Open tennis tournament, where he’s doing corporate appearances.
‘What happened to me is not uncommon’
In his statement, Blake, 35, said the officer “tackled me to the ground, handcuffed me, paraded me down a crowded sidewalk, and detained me for ten minutes before he and his four colleagues realized they had the wrong man.”
“The officer … did not identify himself as a member of law enforcement, ask my name, read me my rights, or in any way afford me the dignity and respect due every person who walks the streets of this country,” Blake added.
“And while I continue to believe the vast majority of our police officers are dedicated public servants who conduct themselves appropriately, I know that what happened to me is not uncommon.”
Blake said he appreciated the apologies from de Blasio and Bratton but “extending courtesy to a public figure mistreated by the police is not enough.” Bratton agreed to meet with Blake and his representatives to discuss the former’s tennis players ideas for change.
Patrick Lynch, head of the police union, said the officer believed he was arresting a person who had committed a crime.
“The apprehension was made under fluid circumstances where the subject might have fled and the officer did a professional job of bringing the individual to the ground to prevent that occurrence,” Lynch said in a statement. “It is truly unfortunate that the arrest was a result of mistaken identity by the complainant in the case and we regret any embarrassment or injury suffered by Mr. Blake as a result.”
Bratton said the incident “should not have happened” but insisted Blake — who is biracial — wasn’t detained because of race.
“I don’t believe that race was a factor,” Bratton said. “This rush to put a race tag on it, I’m sorry, that’s not involved in this at all.”
An undercover officer involved in the incident outside the Grand Hyatt has been placed on desk duty, Bratton has said.
Lynch said placing this officer on modified duty was “premature and unwarranted. No police officer should ever face punitive action before a complete review of the facts.”
The officer, James Frascatore, who is white, is a defendant in two federal lawsuits filed earlier that allege excessive force in separate incidents.
Last year, Frascatore was named in an amended complaint filed in federal court in Brooklyn alleging he and seven other officers and sergeants beat and unlawfully arrested a man in a Queens deli in May 2013.
The officer is named in a complaint filed in May alleging that officers used excessive force against a man named Warren Diggs for riding his bicycle on the sidewalk in 2013. The city denies the allegations in an answer to the complaint, according to court paperwork.
Officers investigating fraud case
Reacting to Wednesday’s incident, Blake, once ranked No. 4 in the world, told the Daily News that “in my mind there’s probably a race factor involved, but no matter what, there’s no reason for anybody to do that to anybody. … I was just standing there. I wasn’t running. It’s not even close (to being OK). It’s blatantly unnecessary.”
Detectives from the Identity Theft Task Force went to the hotel to arrest people purchasing high-end shoes with fraudulent credit cards, said Robert Boyce, chief of detectives for the New York police.
Officers set up the sting after a company that delivered goods on demand notified police that a group had purchased $18,000 in items using fraudulent credit cards, Boyce said.
At the hotel, a courier delivered the goods to one man and police arrested him, Boyce said, identifying the suspect as a white male from England visiting the United States on a student visa.
“That courier then told the owner of the service provider that the individual standing 8 feet away, Mr. James Blake, was the other perpetrator” in the earlier incident, Boyce said.
Officers also identified Blake as a suspect from a photo from the company supplying the goods, Boyce said.
The company got the photo off Instagram based on the name of a person they’d done business with, he said.
“If you look at the photo … it’s a reasonable likeness to Mr. Blake,” Boyce said. “They look like twins.”
But the Instagram photo can’t be shown to the press, he said, because it turned out to be the image of an innocent person, not anybody involved in the fraud case.
Blake was let go shortly after a retired New York police officer informed detectives he was a tennis player.
Police went inside the hotel and arrested a second suspect, also a Briton, Boyce said.
The men — identified as Jarmaine Grey, 26, and James Short, 27 — were charged with identity theft and credit card fraud, authorities said.
The suspects allegedly used fraudulent American Express cards to purchase more than $8,000 worth of goods, including champagne, Louis Vuitton bags and iPhones, according to the Manhattan district attorney’s office. They were arraigned Thursday, with bail for both set at $50,000.
An attorney for Grey declined to comment. CNN has not heard back from Short’s attorney.
Did police use too much force?
Bratton has ordered an internal investigation of the Blake incident. He wants to know how the mistake was made, whether excessive force was used and why detention protocols were not followed.
He said the officers didn’t report the incident to superiors, and he was unaware of it until Blake’s comments hit the media.
“Was the force used inappropriate? The initial review is we believe it may not have been,” he said.
Bratton said he’s heard reports one of the officers did not display a badge. That may have been because he was undercover, Bratton said.
Blake, a former Olympian, told “Good Morning America” that he initially thought a friend was running toward him to try to surprise him with a bear hug.
Instead, “he picked me up and body-slammed me and put me on the ground and told me to turn over and shut my mouth, and put the cuffs on me,” Blake told ABC.
He said he cooperated and tried to explain who he was and provide his identification but that his explanations were ignored.
“I’m shaken up,” Blake said Thursday on “Good Morning America.” “A couple bumps and bruises, but all right.”
Blake also can take solace in the support he’s received around the tennis world.
One of the women’s game’s all-time greats, Martina Navratilova, took to Twitter to call the situation “unacceptable” and “just outrageous.”
And the sport’s governing body stateside, the U.S. Tennis Association, said in a statement it is “deeply concerned about this troubling incident.”
“James is the embodiment of a model citizen whose triumphs on and off the court continue to inspire tennis fans and nonfans alike,” the USTA said. “We will continue to offer our support to James in any way we can as this investigation unfolds.”