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New York City and James Blake Resolve Excessive-Force Claim
James Blake, a retired tennis star, had the makings of a lucrative lawsuit when a New York City police officer roughed him up two years ago: vivid surveillance video, the officer’s history of force complaints, and hasty apologies from the mayor and the police commissioner. But Mr. Blake spurned a potential payout from the city for a less orthodox resolution: The city is set to announce on Wednesday that it will create a legal fellowship in Mr. Blake’s name within the agency that investigates police misconduct.
   James Blake   
New York City and James Blake Resolve Excessive-Force Claim

James Blake, a retired tennis star, had the makings of a lucrative lawsuit when a New York City police officer roughed him up two years ago: vivid surveillance video, the officer’s history of force complaints, and hasty apologies from the mayor and the police commissioner. But Mr. Blake spurned a potential payout from the city for a less orthodox resolution: The city is set to announce on Wednesday that it will create a legal fellowship in Mr. Blake’s name within the agency that investigates police misconduct.

The agreement, which resolves Mr. Blake’s legal claim against the city, represents an unusual turn in a police-brutality case. Surveillance cameras caught clear film of Officer James Frascatore tackling Mr. Blake to the sidewalk in Midtown Manhattan, and the Civilian Complaint Review Board quickly determined that the officer had used excessive force.

The fellow, set to join the review board in January, will perform outreach in neighborhoods with a high volume of police complaints to help the agency close more of its investigations. Last year the agency cut short 55 percent of its investigations, mostly because victims or witnesses stopped cooperating and in other cases because the agency could not reach those people or because someone withdrew a complaint.

Mr. Blake spoke publicly soon after his arrest about the fact that most victims of police brutality have neither the money nor visibility, as he did, to elicit a public apology and a swift investigation. In compelling the city to hire the fellow, Mr. Blake sought to add an advocate for those victims — many of them in poor neighborhoods outside Manhattan — as they navigate the complaint process.

The night after he was thrown to the ground by Officer Frascatore, Mr. Blake began looking for alternatives to a lawsuit, his lawyer, Kevin H. Marino, said.

“He said, ‘I’m certainly not interested in filing a lawsuit against the city to recoup money for me, but I would very much like to use this fortuitous event to make a real difference,’” Mr. Marino recalled.

Mr. Blake, who is 37 and was once ranked No. 4 in the world in singles tennis, was waiting outside a Midtown hotel to be taken to an event at the United States Open when officers mistook him for a suspect in a credit card fraud ring case. The officers failed to report the mistaken arrest, as they were required to do, raising the possibility that it would never have come to light had Mr. Blake not spoken out.

Mr. Blake’s father is black, and his mother is white. Officer Frascatore is white.

Officer Frascatore, 40, has so far avoided a public disciplinary hearing on excessive-force charges that were brought in 2015 by the review board. He had been scheduled to go on trial last month in an administrative proceeding but instead is working toward a deal with the review board. The officer’s lawyers and prosecutors from the review board are expected to meet in the coming weeks.

In a statement on the agreement with Mr. Blake, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “The tireless efforts of committed and qualified fellows will help deliver on the transparency and accountability civilians and police officers deserve by ensuring that more complaints are thoroughly investigated and more cases are closed.”

The review board already has four outreach workers, who attend community meetings to talk about the work of the board. But the new fellow will focus on educating people about the often arduous complaint process and the sworn statements that are necessary to prevent a case from being closed prematurely.

The fellow, a lawyer who will serve for two years, will be screened by the city’s Law Department and the review board. The city has agreed to fund the fellowship for six years and will pay the fellow no less than $65,000, in line with other review board jobs, a Law Department spokesman said. The money will come out of the review board’s budget.

As part of the agreement, under which Mr. Blake agreed to withdraw a notice of claim he had filed against the city, the city will also pay a little less than $175,000 to cover travel costs for Mr. Blake and fees incurred by his legal team over the nearly two years of negotiations.

NYPD Officer From Oceanside Used Excessive Force Against Tennis Star James Blake, City Panel Says

Officer James Frascatore mistook ex-tennis pro James Blake for identity theft suspect Sean Satha — who also turned out to be innocent.

By Ryan Bonner (Patch National Staff) - Updated October 8, 2015 3:15 pm ET

NYPD Officer James Frascatore used excessive force when he tackled and wrongly arrested ex-tennis pro James Blake outside his Manhattan hotel on Sept. 9, the NYC Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) has found.

The CCRB is an independent, city-instated agency that investigates complaints against NYPD officers in which “the use of excessive or unnecessary force, abuse of authority, discourtesy, or the use of offensive language” is alleged.

The board sent a letter containing its findings to Blake’s lawyer on Tuesday.

In the letter, the CCRB charged Officer Frascatore with using excessive force and “recommended the stiffest punishment: departmental charges that could lead to suspension or dismissal,” the New York Times reports.

Frascatore will now face an internal NYPD trial.

Here is Blake’s statement on the board’s findings, sent to Patch:

‘’I want to express my appreciation to the Civilian Complaint Review Board for their quick and thorough review of the incident during which I was attacked on September 9, 2015. I learned today that the CCRB has substantiated the Complaint, filed on my behalf by my attorney Kevin Marino, against James Frascatore (for excessive force), and Daniel Herzog (for abuse of authority). It is my understanding that these officers now face an administrative trial for their roles in the respective offenses. I have complete respect for the principle of due process and appreciate the efforts of the CCRB to advance this investigation.’’

And here is some outrage from the police union, via the Times:

Stephen C. Worth, a union lawyer representing Officer Frascatore, said the “so-called substantiation is in no way a finding of any wrongdoing by any competent authority.” Mr. Worth added that he was confident that Officer Frascatore would eventually be exonerated. “This is a simple case of a good-faith misidentification which has been wildly blown out of proportion,” he said.

A surveillance video released by the New York Police Department (NYPD) shows Blake, 35, standing at the entrance of the Grand Hyatt New York in Midtown Manhattan, fiddling with his cellphone, when an officer comes out of nowhere and throws him to the ground.

Blake, who was in town for the U.S. Open, had given a similar account of the aggressive police takedown on Sept. 9 in an interview with the New York Daily News.

After Blake came forward, NYPD officials said the tennis star had been mistaken for a man wanted in connection with an identity-theft ring.

An Instagram photo leaked to TMZ of the intended target — Sean Satha, a sunglasses designer in Australia — did appear to resemble Blake. However, the NYPD later admitted that even Satha turned out to be innocent.

The department announced pretty immediately that Officer Frascatore would be placed on “modified assignment” while Internal Affairs investigated the incident.

Blake described the incident in a statement issued a few days after the fact.

“Just before noon on Wednesday, while I was standing on a sidewalk outside my hotel in midtown Manhattan waiting for a car to take me to the U.S. Open, a plainclothes New York City Police 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, who was apparently investigating a case of credit card fraud, 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. And while I continue to believe the vast majority of our police officers are dedicated public servants who conducted themselves appropriately, I know that what happened to me is not uncommon.

When this incident was reported in the news media, Mayor De Blasio and Commissioner Bratton both called me to extend their personal apologies, and I greatly appreciate those gestures. But extending courtesy to a public figure mistreated by the police is not enough. As I told the commissioner, I am determined 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. 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 neighbourhoods where incidents of the type I experienced occur all too frequently. The Commissioner has agreed to meet with my representatives and me to discuss our ideas in that regard, and we very much look forward to that meeting.”

In the Daily News interview, Blake said he had been waiting for a car to take him to Flushing Meadows, Queens, where he planned to make corporate appearances for Time-Warner Cable. He was texting on his phone, he said, when he looked up and saw someone in shorts and a T-Shirt charging at him.

“Maybe I’m naïve, but I just assumed it was someone I went to high school with or something who was running at me to give me a big hug, so I smiled at the guy,” Blake said.

He said the officer picked him up, threw him onto the sidewalk, yelled at him to roll over and said, “Don’t say a word.”

Four more officers eventually joined the first, Blake said. They had him handcuffed for about 15 minutes, he said, before the officers realized their mistake and apologized. However, according to Blake, the officer who tackled him never said sorry or otherwise admitted wrongdoing.

NYPD brass announced just last week that the department had drafted new use-of-force guidelines for its officers to work by — and admitted that up until now, officers have been trained based on a weak and unclear aggression policy.

Originally published October 8, 2015.

© 2003 The E-Accountability Foundation