NBA player Thabo Sefolosha acquitted in incident with NY police

Atlanta Hawks forward Thabo Sefolosha (centre) leaves the courthouse after attending his trial in New York on Oct 7, 2015.
Atlanta Hawks forward Thabo Sefolosha (centre) leaves the courthouse after attending his trial in New York on Oct 7, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - Swiss NBA player Thabo Sefolosha was acquitted on Friday (Oct 9) of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct during a confrontation with police outside a Manhattan night club in which his leg was broken.

The New York jury handed down the not-guilty verdict after deliberating for less than an hour, acquitting the Atlanta Hawks forward on all counts.

"I am happy ... that my name has been cleared," a visibly relieved Sefolosha told reporters as he exited the court house.

"I just wanted the truth to come out."

 

Prosecutors had offered the 31-year-old a plea deal of no more than one day community service if he pleaded guilty. But he rejected it, wanting to prove his innocence.

He had faced a maximum one year prison term if convicted.

"It's been hard, a lot of stress," he said, before leaving in a black SUV.

The incident took place in the early hours of April 8, moments after another pro player, Chris Copeland, was knifed on his way out of the same club.

Police said Sefolosha was belligerent and that he called an officer a midget, and prosecutors argued that he did not obey orders to clear a crime scene.

Taking the stand on Thursday, Sefolosha, who is black, denied the police version of events, insisting he did not put up resistance.

"They were looking for a reason to arrest me," said Sefolosha. "I moved when they asked me to move." "They didn't give orders," he added.

Sefolosha, whose leg was broken in the incident, suffered ligament damage that required surgery and months of rest, which he said made him miss the National Basketball Association playoffs.

His case came amid heightened public scrutiny of police treatment of blacks in the United States.

On September 9, former professional tennis player James Blake, who is bi-racial, was slammed to the ground and handcuffed outside his Manhattan hotel by a policeman who mistook him for a suspect in a fraud case.

New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton apologiaed the following day, acknowledging that the arrest was unjustified and that the use of force had raised "concerns about the takedown."

On Thursday, a city commission recommended that the police officer be disciplined.

Bratton announced earlier this month that stricter rules on the use of force by New York police would be put in place in January.