Review board: New York police abused authority in arresting Thabo Sefolosha

AP Photo/Seth Wenig
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The aftermath of Thabo Sefolosha‘s April arrest is playing out on multiple fronts.

He was found not guilty in criminal court. He’s also suing in civil court.

And New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board was reviewing the police’s conduct.

Those results are in.

James C. McKinley Jr. of The New York Times:

New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board ruled on Monday that the police had no right to arrest Atlanta Hawks basketball player Thabo Sefolosha outside a nightclub in April, but that officers had not used excessive force when they knocked him to the ground and broke his leg.

A three-member panel found that one officer, JohnPaul Giacona, had been discourteous and had abused his authority when he used profanity and threatened to fight Mr. Sefolosha, after asking him several times to move farther away from the nightclub.

The panel also ruled that Officer Giacona and a second officer, Richard Caster, had abused their authority when they arrested Mr. Sefolosha a few minutes later, a finding that means the officers lacked a valid reason to take him into custody.

But the panel cleared the officers of accusations that they had been unduly brutal while subduing Mr. Sefolosha, according to a disposition letter summarizing the board’s findings.

Police Commissioner William J. Bratton could dock Officer Giacona up to 15 days of vacation, if he follows the board’s recommendation. The board also recommended Officer Caster be sent for additional training in proper police procedure.

This is a big deal. It’s a major problem whenever police abuse their authority. Every time it happens, it should be brought to light, and the officers should be punished. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case, but at least the first step happened here.

Sefolosha said an officer told him, “With or without a badge, I can f— you up.” The Hawks forward also said he complied with police orders.

These findings validate Sefolosha’s claims.

But the panel clearing the officers of excessive brutality could hinder his lawsuit. His injuries are central to the suit.

I’m also a bit surprised by that portion of the panel’s determination. Here’s video from that night:

This obviously isn’t the full picture, but if Sefolosha did nothing to warrant arrest, what could he have done to deserve that level of force?

I supposed I could be convinced that no officer, on an individual basis, used excessive force – though that’s a hard case to make for the cop who struck Sefolosha with a nightstick. But the other officers are pulling Sefolosha in different directions, practically preventing him from complying with the group ordering him a certain direction. Collectively, that’s excessive. That should have been handled better.

Hopefully, these reviews ensure police do better the next time.