NYC jury acquits Hawks’ Sefolosha in police fracas
New York — Atlanta Hawks’ player Thabo Sefolosha was acquitted Friday in a case stemming from a police fracas outside a trendy New York City nightclub.
A Manhattan jury found Sefolosha not guilty of misdemeanor obstructing government administration, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
The guard-forward, who suffered a fractured right leg in the April 8 struggle with police, was accused of repeatedly disobeying the orders of officers telling him to leave the area around the club where another NBA player, Chris Copeland, had been stabbed.
He testified that he moved off the block at the behest of a vulgar and confrontational officer and was trying to give a beggar a $20 bill when he was grabbed by officers and taken to the ground.
“They arrested him,” Sefolosha’s attorney, Alex Spiro, said in his closing argument. “They broke his leg out of eyeshot or earshot of an unrelated crime scene.”
Before the confrontation turned physical, the 6-foot-6 Sefolosha said he challenged the tone of a particularly aggressive officer who was ushering him, former teammate Pero Antic and others. He said he called the 5-foot-7 officer “a midget.” Charges against Antic later were dropped.
But prosecutors presented a different theory, arguing Sefolosha, a Swiss citizen, acted entitled as he slowly departed the 1Oak nightclub. They said he eventually locked his arms in front of him to make it more difficult for arresting officers to put on handcuffs.
“The police don’t get to tell the defendant how to play basketball,” an assistant district attorney, Francesca Bartolomey, said in her summation. “The defendant doesn’t get to say where the crime scene ends.”
The case is the second one involving high-profile athletes accusing New York Police Department officers of wrongdoing this year. On Wednesday, the city agency charged with investigating police misconduct substantiated claims by former tennis pro James Blake that an officer used excessive force in taking him to the ground and wrongly arresting him last month after mistaking him for a fraud suspect.
Spiro, the defense lawyer, has suggested Sefolosha, who is black, was targeted because of his race. He pointed to surveillance video showing the white officer passing Antic, who also is white, and others as he demanded Sefolosha to move up the block.
Sefolosha had surgery on his leg and isn’t fully healed. He said he continues to undergo rehab and isn’t sure he’ll be ready to play when the NBA season starts Oct. 27.