NEW YORK (AP) — Former pro tennis star James Blake testified on Tuesday that a plainclothes police officer never identified himself before throwing him to the ground and handcuffing him outside in 2015 outside his Manhattan hotel.
“He never said ‘NYPD.’ He never said ‘officer,'” Blake said at a disciplinary trial for Officer James Frascatore. “He never said ‘freeze,’ like you’d see in the movies.”
Blake testified that he remained handcuffed for about 10 minutes before police realized they had mistaken Blake for a suspect wanted in a fraud investigation. At one point, Blake said, Frascatore told him, “You know you’re safe, right?”
Blake said responded: “I don’t know I’m safe. I don’t know why I’m here.”
After being freed without an apology from the officer, a “dazed” Blake’s first instinct was to “tough it out and walk it off,” he testified. He said his wife asked him what he’d do if the same thing happened to her, which “woke me up.”
“It shouldn’t happen to me. It shouldn’t happen to anyone,” he testified. “There needs to be accountability for everybody.”
Blake’s arrest — captured in a security video — became another flashpoint in the national debate over police use of force against unarmed black men. The 37-year-old American, once the No. 4 tennis player in the world, is the child of a black father and white mother; Frascatore is white.
Frascatore this year rejected a deal asking him to forfeit vacation days to resolve New York Police Department internal charges that he used excessive force. The NYPD administrative judge who’s hearing the case will recommend a potentially more severe punishment, including dismissal from the nation’s largest police force, to the police commissioner.
The officer, who denies he did anything wrong, also will take the witness stand. He has been assigned to desk duty pending a decision about his future.
In an opening statement, attorney Stephen Worth argued the officer was following orders when he used a takedown move on Blake that police use every day without being disciplined. His client was charged only “because James Blake is a celebrity,” he said.
The NYPD has said that Blake matched a photo of a suspect sought in the case and that race wasn’t a factor. It also initially claimed that Blake had only been detained for a couple minutes and was never manhandled or handcuffed, he says in his new book, “Ways of Grace.”
In the book, he describes seeking out hotel security personnel, who showed him the video proving he was slammed down and kept cuffed at least 10 minutes. He then spoke out about it on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” which he says forced the department to release the video and change its story.
After the video was made public, city and police officials took the unusual step of apologizing and establishing in Blake’s name a fellowship aimed at helping people who accuse police of abuses to get full reviews by a police oversight agency.
“It should not matter that I’m a tennis star … to be treated respectfully and not have my rights taken away from me from law enforcement,” he writes.