Officer in James Blake Arrest Used Excessive Force, Panel Says

By NEW YORK CITY POLICE DEPT.

Surveillance Video of James Blake Arrest

Video footage released by the New York Police Department shows Officer James Frascatore’s rough handling of the retired tennis star while mistakenly arresting him on Sept. 9.

By NEW YORK CITY POLICE DEPT. on Publish Date September 11, 2015. Photo by New York Police Department

The plainclothes police officer who tackled the retired tennis player James Blake to the sidewalk during an arrest in Manhattan last month used excessive force, according to an investigation by the Civilian Complaint Review Board, New York City’s independent agency for police misconduct.

In a letter sent to Mr. Blake’s lawyer on Tuesday, the board said it had completed its investigation into the conduct of the officer, James Frascatore, during the arrest on Sept. 9 in front of the Grand Hyatt Hotel on 42nd Street in Midtown. The officer’s actions, recorded on surveillance video, prompted outrage and happened amid a national conversation over the proper use of force by the police.

The board substantiated the charge of excessive force against Officer Frascatore and recommended the stiffest punishment: departmental charges that could lead to suspension or dismissal.

He will now face an internal Police Department trial; the police commissioner, William J. Bratton, has the final say on discipline of officers.

“I want to express my appreciation to the Civilian Complaint Review Board for their quick and thorough review of the incident where I was attacked,” Mr. Blake said in a statement. “I have complete respect for the principle of due process and appreciate the efforts of the C.C.R.B. to advance this investigation.”

Mr. Blake’s lawyer, Kevin H. Marino, said his client “looks forward to participating in the forthcoming trial.”

The investigation and decision by the board came before the Police Department’s own Internal Affairs investigation had been completed.

“We have been made aware of the C.C.R.B.’s findings,” the department’s top spokesman, Stephen Davis, said in a statement. “The department’s internal review is still ongoing.”

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.

Photo

James Blake. Credit Joshua Bright for The New York Times

The review board also found that a plainclothes detective who authorized the arrest, Daniel Herzog, had abused his authority in connection with the arrest, which occurred during a sting operation related to credit card fraud. Mr. Blake was mistaken for a suspect during the operation.

The board recommended that Detective Herzog be given command discipline, which could result in a loss of up to five vacation days. (Two other men were arrested at the scene; Mr. Blake was released shortly after officers realized that he was a former tennis star — once ranked No. 4 in the world — unconnected to the fraud case.)

“This is clearly a politically motivated decision taken against a distinguished, dedicated member of the service,” said Philip Karasyk, a lawyer from the union representing Detective Herzog. “By any objective, unbiased standard, Detective Herzog had abundant probable cause to make this arrest.”

Mr. Karasyk said his client, who was running the fraud investigation that day as part of a financial crimes task force, had no previous complaints or discipline against him. He said Detective Herzog had been pointed in the direction of Mr. Blake by a courier who had been cooperating with officers.

After realizing that the arrest was a mistake, Detective Herzog spoke with Mr. Blake. “I apologized profusely to him,” the detective told the review board’s investigators, Mr. Karasyk said.

The arrest of Mr. Blake, who had been standing idly outside the hotel before he was thrown to the ground, drew widespread attention, as many believed that he had come under suspicion and had been roughly treated because of his skin color; he is biracial. For some minorities living in heavily policed areas, Mr. Blake’s arrest resonated with their experiences of harsh treatment.

It also prompted swift apologies from Mayor Bill de Blasio and Mr. Bratton, who both met privately with Mr. Blake last month. Officer Frascatore was stripped of his badge and gun after the episode pending the departmental investigation.

Mr. Bratton has said that there was probable cause for the arrest and that race was not a factor, but that the force used in taking Mr. Blake to the ground appeared “inappropriate.” (The Police Department announced last week that it would be revising its policies on the use of force.)

The review board completed its investigation in less than a month, which drew notice from some criminal justice activists. In past years, such investigations have stretched to hundreds of days; more recently, the board has cut its investigation time to an average of less than 80 days.

But the surveillance video provided a clear view of the arrest and appeared to help the board come to a determination faster than usual.

“The C.C.R.B. is committed to conducting thorough and rigorous investigations on an expedited schedule in all cases that can be resolved quickly,” Mina Malik, the agency’s executive director, said through a spokeswoman. “The Blake matter falls into this category.”

The agency declined to comment further on the case, citing a state law that protects police personnel records from public disclosure.

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