As Atlanta Hawks forward Thabo Sefolosha makes a triumphant return to the court this season, a civilian probe into his violent arrest by NYPD officers is regaining momentum thanks to a successful suit against the department.
In a story that The Guardian said "was largely ignored by sports media," the Swiss-born Sefolosha (whose father is from South Africa) was accosted by NYPD officers in April outside of a Manhattan nightclub. He and then-teammate Pero Antic were in the vacinity of a crime—the stabbing of another NBA player, Chris Copeland—and arrested for allegedly interfering with the investigation. Sefolosha’s leg was broken during the arrest—by an arresting officer, he said—which stopped him from playing during the Hawks’s last four regular season games and the entirety of the playoffs. The injury could have potentially crushed Sefolosha’s career.
Sefolosha, rejecting a plea deal that would have dropped the charges after six months for one hour of community service, went to trial over counts of misdemeanor obstructing government administration, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. During the trial, the prosecution alleged that Sefolosha was being aggressive and charged an officer, while Sefolosha said that he was attacked while giving money to a homeless man and that officers intimidated him. According to his testimony, Officer JohnPaul Giacona said, “With or without a badge, I’m going to fuck you up and I can fuck you up.”
Sefolosha was vindicated and cleared of all charges by a jury on October 9, right around the time he started playing again with the Hawks. Now, a new report from ESPN says that an investigation by the Civilian Complaint Review Board—a civilian advisory organization that investigates police conduct—has regained momentum thanks to Sefolosha’s acquittal. The board started the investigation before Sefolosha’s trial, interviewing the five involved officers, but now has access to witness testimony that was only available to the defense during the trial. Depending on the conclusion of their investigation, the board might recommend disciplinary action for the involved officers—recommendations, reports sources close to ESPN, that the police commissioner rarely ignores.
Although Sefolosha is not yet pursuing civil charges against the NYPD or the offending officers, the head of the NBA players’ union stated that she and the union would stand by Sefolosha if he did so. In statements made during a Q&A session at the espnW: Women + Sports Summit last week, National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts pledged unequivocal support and chastised the arresting officers:
He now has a civil litigation if he wants to pursue it. I take my lead from him … but all he has to do is turn me on and I’m gone. I can’t even tell you how horrific the experience he had was. It was just dreadful.