Atlanta Hawks player Thabo Sefolosha was found not guilty in a Manhattan courtroom today, ESPN reports. The guard-forward, was facing misdemeanor obstruction of government administration, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest charges. The allegations stemmed from an April 8 incident outside of a New York club. He was visibly emotional when the verdict was read. The jury reached their not guilty verdict in just under an hour.
Sefolosha’s version of the night in question was that he was assaulted by officers while trying to give a homeless man $20. He’d previously been asked to leave the area surrounding a night club where another NBA player had been stabbed. According to Sefolosha, he followed orders of “a vulgar and confrontational officer” and left the block. Officers disagreed with his version of events, saying he lingered and deliberately resisted orders and arrest. The jury, which found the player not guilty, felt Sefolosha’s version was more credible. The incident also left Thabo with a broken leg, which required surgery. He’s just been cleared to play again.
“I’ve started running and playing a little bit more; it’s starting to feel better, but I don’t know exactly. I hope I still have a long career ahead of me.”
The not guilty verdict comes after a highly-contentious case in which Sefolosha and his legal team made allegations of racism, stating that the white officer got the player out of view of cameras and recording devices before assaulting him and breaking his leg. They went on to say that surveillance video demonstrated that they had walked past a white participant in the drama and left him unmolested.
The arrest video is extremely violent, especially considering that the athlete was found not guilty today.
Police and attorneys for the city had a different version of events, stating that their arrest technique had nothing to do with race and everything with doing their jobs. They went on to say that they have sole discretion when it comes to determining where a crime scene begins and ends, and the right and responsibility to clear that scene as needed. While today’s not guilty verdict doesn’t address the claims of racism or a racial motivation on the part of police, it sets the stage for Sefolosha to move forward with his career. It also sets the stage for the player and his legal team to determine what, if any, legal action he might be taking against the city.
When he was asked following the not guilty ruling whether or not he would be suing the city for the assault, Sefolosha indicated he hadn’t made a decision yet. Prior to the case going to trial, the guard-forward was given the option of doing one day of community service to handle the matter, but he claimed he rejected the offer on principle. Having now been found not guilty, Sefolosha’s convictions seem to have paid off.
Unfortunately for New York City, this is only the most recent in a string of high-profile cases involving abuse of police power. On Wednesday, a city agency found that police had used excessive force when they tackled James Blake, a professional tennis player. Officers mistook him for a fugitive, tackled him, and went so far as to wrongly arrest him. Fortunately for Blake, he wasn’t grievously injured, nor did he have to go to trial and be found not guilty to put the situation behind him.
Today’s not guilty verdict also comes in the wake of multiple highly-publicized instances of police brutality and excessive use of force across the United States. Many of those cases, such as the Mike Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri, and the Eric Garner case in New York City, have been alleged to have a racial component as well. In those cases, as well as many others, citizens were killed rather than having the opportunity to be found guilty or not guilty in a court of law. Just today, WILX in Mississippi reported that a Jackson man was awarded $30,000 stemming from a 2013 case of police brutality. Joseph Hines, who is also African-American, is just one of the dozens of U.S. citizens who are awarded such settlements every year. In many cases, the settlement terms are undisclosed.
Thabo Sefolosha’s supporters on social media definitely think he should be pursing a civil action in the wake of his not guilty verdict.
The NYPD arrested the NBA's Thabo Sefolosha and broke his leg. He was just found not guilty. Now, PROSECUTE THE POLICE!
— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) October 9, 2015
Whatever the words Thabo Sefolosha is worth in a scrabble game, that's how many millions he should get as a settlement.
— Arsenio Hall (@ArsenioHall) October 9, 2015
If Thabo Sefolosha doesn't recover from his arrest-related injuries and he's not the same player, he'd seek massive damages in any lawsuit.
— Michael McCann (@McCannSportsLaw) October 9, 2015
Whether or not Sefolosha sues the city, today’s not guilty verdict is a resounding one for everyone concerned about police abusing their authority.
[Image Courtesy: Thabo Sefolosha/Twitter]