Chief-Leader
September 14, 2015 5:00 pm

 

Bratton: Won’t Tolerate Excessive Force Used Against Ex-Tennis Star

PBA Defends ‘Professional’ Job by Cop, Though He Didn’t Report Incident

By MARK TOOR

    
PATRICK J. LYNCH: Cites ‘fluid circumstances.’  

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association leapt to the defense of the officer who knocked retired tennis star James Blake to the ground and handcuffed him after mistaking him for a suspect in a credit-card fraud.

“We will very aggressively address it,” Police Commissioner William J. Bratton told NY1 shortly after the Sept. 9 incident. “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.”

An Attempted Cover-Up

Compounding the seriousness of the officer’s conduct, neither he nor the other five plainclothes cops at the scene reported the incident to NYPD superiors. Mr. Bratton learned of it because Mr. Blake had contacted a Daily News reporter.

PBA President Patrick J. Lynch offered a possible explanation for the officer’s actions. “The police officer was apprehending what he had every reason to believe was an individual who had just committed a crime,” he said in a statement Sept. 11. “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.

‘Regret Any Injury’

“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.”

The NYPD released a brief surveillance video Sept. 11 that showed Mr. Blake standing peacefully outside the hotel. Then an officer rushed toward him, grabbed him, spun him around, threw him to the ground and began to handcuff him.

Despite Mr. Bratton’s call to wait for the completion of the investigation, he and other city officials responded with an unusual degree of speed. Within less than 24 hours, the officer, four-year veteran James Frascatore, was placed on modified duty, meaning he was relieved of his gun and badge and assigned to desk work. That decision was made before Internal Affairs Bureau officers had completed a review of surveillance tapes, according to news reports.

Bratton, Mayor Apologize

The following day, Mr. Bratton and Mayor de Blasio apologized to Mr. Blake, 35.

Following a conversation with him, the Police Commissioner said, “Mr. Blake indicated he would be willing to meet with the Internal Affairs Bureau as our investigation continues. Additionally, he said he would be returning the Mayor’s earlier phone call to speak to him.” Mr. de Blasio apologized by text message when Mr. Blake did not answer his phone.

“Mr. Blake said he would like to meet with the Mayor and me at a future date, which we would be agreeable to,” Mr. Bratton continued.

The Mayor’s Office and the NYPD released a joint statement Sept. 11 saying, “This incident remains under investigation 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.

“This Administration takes the mission of bringing the police and the community closer together very seriously. It is why the city has already invested nearly $29 million to retrain approximately 22,000 uniformed-service members—with thousands more to be retrained in the coming months.”

A Racial Subtext?

The clash received additional attention because of a possible racial motive. Mr. Blake’s father is black and his mother is white. Mr. Frascatore and the other officers are white. The incident raised questions about the success of efforts by Mr. Bratton to make policing more friendly and less forceful, particularly when it involves minorities.

The Commissioner insisted, however, “Sorry, race has nothing at all to do with this,” adding that the officers were equipped with a photo of a suspect who looked very much like Mr. Blake. That “suspect,” however, was later cleared.

Mr. Blake said that he believed race was a factor but that he was more troubled by the use of force. He also raised concerns about whether the city would have responded so quickly to someone treated the way he was who was not prominent and wealthy.

Officer Frascatore, 38, was criticized by police commanders, who spoke anonymously, for using a high degree of physical force against a man who had not resisted and for failing to apologize after his mistake became clear. Mr. Blake said Mr. Frascatore never identified himself as a police officer—in violation of department procedure—a contention the NYPD did not dispute.

A Magnet for Force Beefs

Mr. Frascatore had at least three force-related complaints filed against him in 2013, the New York Times reported. One involved a refusal to identify himself after he pinned a man to a driveway for riding his bike on the sidewalk and arrested his wife, charging that she tampered with evidence when she moved his bicycle into her house, according to the Daily News. The charge was dismissed.

Mr. Blake was caught up in a sting operation aimed at people buying cell phones with fraudulent credit cards, according to the Times. Officers hired a delivery service bring phones to a suspect at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. A suspect was arrested when he accepted delivery.

Police asked the deliveryman whether he recognized anyone else involved in the scam. The man identified two men, including Mr. Blake, who was standing on the sidewalk outside the hotel on East 42nd St., waiting for a car to transport him to an appearance at the U.S. Open in Queens.

At that point, Mr. Blake told the News, an officer charged him, picked him up, threw him on the sidewalk and told him to turn face-down. The officer then handcuffed him.

‘What’s This About?’

“I’m going to do whatever you say,” Mr. Blake recalled telling the officer. “I’m going to cooperate. But do you mind if I ask what this is all about?” The officers told him only, “You’re in safe hands.” Mr. Blake said he didn’t feel very safe.

A man who sold newspapers near Grand Central Station, next to the hotel, witnessed the incident. “They were real aggressive, like he robbed a bank,” he told the Times. “They were shoving him around.” The officers pushed Mr. Blake face-first into a building-support beam, the witness said.

Mr. Blake remained cuffed for less than 15 minutes until a retired officer recognized him and told the officers who he was. He sustained cuts and bruises.

‘No Reason to Do That’

“You’d think they could say, ‘Hey, we want to talk to you. We are looking into something,’” he told the News. “I was just standing there. I wasn’t running...It’s blatant­ly unnecessary. You would think at some point they would get the memo that this isn’t okay, but it seems that there’s no stopping it...

“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.”