NEW YORK (September 13, 2015) — When former tennis star James Blake relives the moment an undercover cop grabbed and threw him to the ground outside a New York hotel, he wonders what would have happened if he hadn’t cooperated.
What if he hadn’t been so passive, he says, with the stranger who rushed him without saying a word?
“I think about how scary it would have been had I put my arms up and done the normal reaction … to defend myself,” Blake told CNN’s Don Lemon on Saturday.
“If I had any sort of resistance, I wonder what could have happened. I could have broken bones, a concussion or worse.”
The athlete was waiting Wednesday for a car to pick him up and take him to the U.S. Open tennis tournament, where he’s doing corporate appearances. A surveillance video released by the NYPD shows Blake casually standing outside a Grand Hyatt hotel in Manhattan when the plainclothes cop rushes him and throws him to the ground, then handcuffs and leads him away. In the minute-long video, Blake doesn’t resist.
Blake, 35, told CNN that in the 10 to 15 minutes that he was detained, neither the cop who tackled him nor other officers present identified themselves as law enforcement or displayed their badges.
The NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau has interviewed Blake as part of an investigation and provided Blake’s attorney with a copy of the video.
Blake, once ranked No. 4 in the world, vowed in an earlier statement 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.”
He called on the city “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 Saturday that he hasn’t decided whether to sue over what police described as a sting operation gone awry.
“I don’t want a lawsuit that says, ‘Here’s $5 million. Go away. We’re not going to talk about this again,'” he said. “I want to talk about this, open dialogue … about real solutions, accountability, about making sure that this isn’t going to happen.”
After calling Blake to apologize, both Mayor Bill de Blasio and police Comissioner William Bratton said in a statement Friday 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 city has invested nearly $29 million to retrain about 22,000 officers, the statement said. In addition, new neighborhood policing efforts have reduced civilian complaints against police to the lowest levels in 14 years.
Blake says cop should be fired
Blake said he appreciated the apologies from de Blasio and Bratton but that wasn’t enough.
“You wonder how many times its happened without anyone knowing,” Blake said of the incident.
“I’ve gotten emails and texts from people that tell me, ‘This happened to me. This happened to my friend, my father, my brother,'” he said. “None of them get public apologies. They deserve the same treatment I’m getting.”
Patrick Lynch, head of the police union, said Friday that 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.”
Former New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told CNN what happened to Blake was an “overreaction” by the officer.
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.”
Blake said the incident was more about “police brutality” and accountability.
The undercover officer who tackled Blake has been placed on desk duty, police 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 also 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.
Court records show the city is discussing possible settlements of the two cases.
Blake said the cop should be fired.
“You’ve got the badge and [are] supposed to treat that with honor,” Blake said. “I don’t think he deserves to ever have a badge again.”
Officers investigating fraud case
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.