Wall Street Journal
Upd.Sept. 10, 2015 8:45 p.m.

Mayor, Police Commissioner Apologize to James Blake

Tennis player was taken into custody and allegedly tackled in a case of mistaken identity


Retired tennis star James Blake’s mistaken arrest outside of a Manhattan hotel drew strong apologies from Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton Thursday, as the police officer involved was placed on desk duty.

Surveillance video of the incident Wednesday outside the Grand Hyatt hotel near Grand Central Terminal raised concerns about the force used to detain Mr. Blake, who was misidentified as a credit card fraud suspect during a botched undercover investigation, Mr. Bratton said.

The mayor said the incident “shouldn’t have happened.”

“I want to apologize to him on behalf of the city of New York,” Mr. de Blasio said on NY1.

The New York Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau stripped the undercover officer—identified by a law-enforcement official as James Frascatore, 38, a four-year veteran of the NYPD—of his badge due to concerns that the takedown maneuver exceeded what is allowed under department policy, Mr. Bratton said.

“The concerns we have are, was the force used appropriate, and the initial review, we believe that it may not have been,” Mr. Bratton said at a news conference.

Mr. Bratton apologized Thursday to Mr. Blake, 35 years old, who reached a world ranking of No. 4. The former tennis player, who is biracial, told Mr. Bratton that he would return the mayor’s phone call and that he would like to meet with both men.

The commissioner said race wasn't a factor in the incident, which comes at a time of increased scrutiny of police tactics nationwide.

“That’s not involved in this incident at all. We have probable cause on the part of the officer and two witnesses who say that’s him,” Mr. Bratton said. “That does not denote there’s a racial angle to this.”

Appearing on ABC News’ “Good Morning America” Thursday, Mr. Blake said he initially thought the person rushing toward him around noon on Wednesday was “a high school friend or something” about to give him a “bear hug.”

“It turned out quickly that it wasn’t,” Mr. Blake said. “When he picked me up, he did pretty much hug me but he 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.”

Mr. Blake said the officer wasn’t wearing a shield and didn’t identify himself. He said he told the officer that he wasn’t resisting, saying, “‘Look, officer, I’m scared. So if I say something wrong I’m sorry.’ ”

According to Mr. Bratton, the video shows the officer approach Mr. Blake, grab him by the arm, force him to the ground and handcuff him behind his back.

The use of force is only one of the issues investigators are probing. In addition, officers had been working with an Instagram photo of a suspect who looked like Mr. Blake’s “twin,” several officials said, and ended up being a person not involved with the fraud scheme.

Investigators are also looking into whether the officer identified himself and if officers filed the right paperwork—including voided arrest and stop-and-frisk forms, Mr. Bratton said.

The Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent police oversight agency, is conducting its own investigation, a spokeswoman said.

The police department said it only learned of the incident after the New York Daily News published an interview with Mr. Blake following his arrest.

Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association,the union that represents police officers, said that placing the officer on modified duty was “premature and unwarranted.”

The operation that led to Mr. Blake’s arrest stemmed from a probe that began after police received a tip from an Internet courier service that had received suspicious orders, NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said.

The sting resulted in the arrests Wednesday of two men who were at the same hotel as Mr. Blake, Chief Boyce said.

Before the operation, the courier service gave the NYPD a photo from a social media account of a person believed to be one of the suspects, Chief Boyce said, which bore a striking resemblance to Mr. Blake. The NYPD didn’t release the photo, which turned out to be of an innocent person, Chief Boyce said.

—Josh Dawsey and Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed to this article.