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September 11, 2015  

Commissioner Apologizes for Officer Mistakenly Body-Slamming James Blake

By Sybile Penhirin and Trevor Kapp

NEW YORK CITY — Police Commissioner Bill Bratton publicly and then personally apologized to former tennis star James Blake Thursday after a plainclothes NYPD officer mistakenly slammed him to the ground and handcuffed him outside his Midtown hotel Wednesday.

"I’d be very interested, as well as the mayor, to talk with him to extend my apologies for the incident which he found himself involved in yesterday," Bratton said during a press conference on Thursday morning.

“We have determined as a result of the investigation (...) that Mr. Blake had no role or involvement in the criminal investigation we were conducting and was totally innocent of any involvement," he added. 

Bratton eventually talked and apologized to Blake around 5 p.m. on Thursday, according to an NYPD press release.

The 35-year-old tennis player said he was violently tackled and thrown to the ground by a plainclothes officer as he was standing outside his hotel on East 42nd Street near Lexington Avenue.

Blake went on "Good Morning America" on Thursday morning demanding an explanation from police for roughing him up in front Grand Hyatt while waiting for a car to bring him to the U.S. Open around noon Wednesday. 

“I’d like an apology. I’d like an explanation for how they conducted themselves because I think we all need to be held accountable for our actions, and police as well,” Blake said during the live interview, suggesting his number wasn't hard to find since he had been contacted by many reporters since the incident.  

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said he and the mayor had tried to call Blake to apologize on Thursday morning using a cell phone number provided to them, but they had not been successful so far.

By 5 p.m. Thursday, Bratton released a statement saying he had spoken with Blake and "personally apologized for yesterday’s incident."

"Mr. Blake indicated he would be willing to meet with the Internal Affairs Bureau as our investigation continues," the statement read. "Additionally, he said he would be returning the Mayor’s earlier phone call to speak to him." 

Blake has also agreed to meet with the Mayor and Bratton "at a future date," according to the NYPD press release.

The police officer, who was wearing a T-shirt and shorts, didn't identify himself and did not have a badge or show that he worked for the NYPD, Blake said.

"(The plainclothes officer) 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 the morning show hosts.

David Thurber, a businessman visiting the city from Los Angeles who witnessed the incident, also described a sudden and violent scene.

"It was real sudden. He was dropped by an athletic, muscular white guy who had what looked like a gun under his shirt and handcuffs," Thurber said Wednesday.  "It didn't look like he knew what was going on."

Blake — who at one time was ranked fourth in the world — was "misidentified" by a cooperating witness as a person who purchased merchandise using stolen credit card information, the police said.

"The concerns I have about (the incident)... is the inappropriateness of the amount of force that was used during the arrest," Bratton said during a Thursday morning press conference, adding the investigation would determine if that use of force appropriate. 

The police officer who tackled the tennis superstar has been stripped of his gun and badge and placed on administrative duties during the internal investigation, NYPD officials said.

Bratton said the police still had to interview the officer involved, but that he wanted to talk to Blake first.

British nationals, James Short, 27, and Jermaine Grey, 26, who live in the U.S., were arrested later Wednesday in connection with the stolen credit card ring, Bratton said on Thursday.

Both of them used stolen credit cards to buy high-end designer shoes, according to police. The courier delivering the merchandises misidentified Blake for Grey which led the tennis pro to be tackled, Bratton said, adding the police is still looking for a third suspect.

"The similarities are remarkable and on top of that, you have the eyewitness, 'That’s him!' So the officer was responding to witnesses, and that gives the officer probably cause to make the arrest," the commissioner said.

Short, who is from Barking, and Grey, who is from Essex, have both been charged with grand larceny, identity theft and criminal possession of a weapon, officials said. It was unclear what the weapon was and if the two men knew each other. 

Blake said he did not try to resist his arrest. 

"The first words out of my mouth were, ‘I’m going to 100 percent cooperate. I don’t want any incident or whatever,’ just out of reaction from what I’ve seen in the media. I just don't want any sorts of miscommunication," Blake recalled on "Good Morning America."

"Instead of having a little bruise on my leg, I might have some broken bones or actual injuries because it didn't seem like he was slowing down," Blake said of the police officer. 

After a few minutes of being handcuffed, Blake said he started to get "scared."

“I said, ‘Look, officer, I’m scared so if I say something wrong I’m sorry, but I just want to know what’s going on. I think you have the wrong person,’” Blake said during the TV interview.

“I had my credential for the U.S. Open in my back pocket and [I said], ‘Please check that. You can tell I’m a former player. It’s a final-eight badge. It means I did pretty well at the U.S. Open. I’d like to clear my name.’”

Blake, who said he was still "all shaken-up" but overall doing okay, said he thought the incident was not due to racial profiling but rather to a "blatant" excess of force.

Bratton was adamant that race was not a factor in the incident and that internal affairs is investigating the use of force.

"Based on myself and [Internal Affairs] Chief [Joseph] Reznick, our review of the video, I have concerns about the takedown. Until we talk to the officer and talk to Mr. Blake to understand the totality of the circumstances, what the officer thought he was facing as he had Mr. Blake pointed out to him by the courier, we don’t know."

"I do think most cops are doing a great job keeping us safe but when you police with reckless abandon, you need to be held accountable,” he said.

A U.S Tennis Association spokeswoman said the organization was "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 non-fans alike," the USTA statement read.

Patrick Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said the department acted prematurely in putting the officer on modified duty.

"We agree with the police commissioner that the first story is never the whole story and believe that placing this officer on modified duty is premature and unwarranted," Lynch said. "No police officer should ever face punitive action before a complete review of the facts."