James Blake, Retired Tennis Pro, Says Police Pushed Him Down; Inquiry Is Opened
The New York Police Department is investigating an episode in which James Blake, a retired top-10 professional tennis player, said he was pushed to the ground outside his hotel by a police officer on Wednesday and handcuffed by several officers who had mistaken him for a suspect in a fraudulent credit card operation.
Police Commissioner William J. Bratton said in an interview on Wednesday on NY1 that Mr. Blake’s account was “very disturbing.”
“He has a right to be upset about it,” Mr. Bratton said.
By late evening, the police had reviewed a video that showed the officer taking Mr. Blake to the ground, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing.
That officer is expected to be placed on modified assignment as soon as Thursday, the official said, and added, “The bottom line is they got the wrong guy.”
Mr. Blake, 35, who retired two years ago and was in town making appearances for corporate sponsors at the United States Open, was leaving the Grand Hyatt Hotel on East 42nd Street for the Open around noon when he was accosted by a plainclothes officer, he said in an interview with The Daily News.
Mr. Blake, who is 6 feet 1 inch tall, said he was then surrounded by other officers and handcuffed. He said he told the officers who he was but was detained for 15 minutes while they confirmed his identity. He said he had cuts and bruises as a result of the encounter.
“To me it’s as simple as unnecessary police force, no matter what my race is,” Mr. Blake, whose mother is white and whose father was black, told The Daily News. “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,” he told The Daily News. Referring to the use of force, he added: “It’s blatantly unnecessary. You would think at some point they would get the memo that this isn’t O.K., but it seems that there’s no stopping it.”
Mr. Bratton, in the NY1 interview, said: “We will very aggressively address it. I will not tolerate any type of excessive use of force on the part of my police. But as always, and we have that saying, ‘The first story is never the last story,’ so we’ll wait and see what we get for facts and circumstances and, hopefully, video.”
While the police were investigating the episode, including poring over eyewitness statements and video taken in the Grand Hyatt’s lobby, they gave a basic account of what happened.
According to that account, plainclothes officers were investigating a ring believed to be using fraudulent credit cards to buy cellphones, according to an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the internal investigation into the episode involving Mr. Blake was continuing.
As part of the credit card investigation, the police had a private service deliver phones to a suspect at the hotel, the official said. Once the delivery took place, the suspect was arrested, the official said.
The delivery person then pointed out to the police two other people in the lobby to whom he said he had delivered phones the previous day.
At that point, the official said, the officers “detained those two people as well.” One was Mr. Blake. He was released after a retired police officer recognized him.
Among the questions about what happened during the episode are how long Mr. Blake was detained — the police said he was in handcuffs for less than a minute — and when the plainclothes officers identified themselves. He claims that they initially did not.
Asked if Mr. Blake had been thrown to the ground by an officer, or officers, J. Peter Donald, a Police Department spokesman, said, “It’s under investigation.” Mr. Blake, who plans to stay in New York through the weekend, declined through a close associate to be interviewed. The associate did confirm the account Mr. Blake gave to The Daily News.
Mr. Blake at first sought an apology from the Police Department, but after Mr. Bratton’s statements, he was waiting to see how the investigation played out, according to the associate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the inquiry was continuing.
Mr. Blake, who plans to run the New York City Marathon on Nov. 1 to raise money for cancer research, attended Harvard before becoming a professional tennis player. He rose to No. 4 in the world and won 10 singles titles. Late Wednesday, a mayoral spokeswoman released a statement saying, “We deeply regret the incident.”