Ex-tennis star James Blake 'slammed to the ground' in mistaken identity arrest by police in New York
Former tennis star James Blake was slammed to the ground, handcuffed and detained for about 15 minutes in New York City on Wednesday before police realized they had the wrong man in an identity theft ring, New York's Daily News reported.
The incident occurred as Blake, formerly the world's fourth-ranked player, was waiting for a car outside a Midtown Manhattan hotel to take him to the U.S. Open.
Blake said that after being shoved to the sidewalk, he was detained by five white plainclothes city police officers. But the New York native, who is black, stopped short of calling it racial profiling.
"I don't know if it's as simple as that," the 35-year-old Blake told the News. "To me it's as simple as unnecessary police force, no matter what my race is.
"In my mind there's probably a race factor involved, but no matter what there's no reason for anybody to do that to anybody."
Police said Blake had been mistakenly identified by "a cooperating witness" as being involved in a ring dealing in fraudulently purchased cellphones. They added that allegations of excessive force would be investigated by internal affairs.
"Once Blake was properly identified and found to have no connection to the investigation, he was released from police custody immediately," the New York Police Department said in a statement.
Investigators reviewed surveillance video of the incident and one officer has been placed on modified assignment, the NYPD said late on Wednesday.
Asked if he considered the incident an example of racial profiling, Blake said, "I don't know if it's as simple as that. To me it's as simple as unnecessary police force, no matter what my race is. In my mind there's probably a race factor involved, but no matter what there's no reason for anybody to do that to anybody.
"You'd think they could say, 'Hey, we want to talk to you. We are looking into something.’ I was just standing there. I wasn't running. It's not even close (to be okay). It's blatantly unnecessary. You would think at some point they would get the memo that this isn't okay, but it seems that there's no stopping it."
According to the Daily News, Blake said he had been answering some questions from a journalist when he saw a man charging at him. He initially assumed it was an old acquaintance who was approaching him – so he smiled at the gentleman.
Blake was then thrown to the ground, with the officer yelling at him to roll over onto his face and “don’t say a word.”
Blake said he responded, "I'm going to do whatever you say. I'm going to cooperate. But do you mind if I ask what this is all about?"
“We'll tell you,” the officer reportedly responded. “You are in safe hands."
Blake noted: "I didn't feel very safe."
Blake said officers told him that two members of the public had identified him as someone who had been involved in an identity theft ring in the area over the previous week, although it soon became evident that the Harvard graduate, who was waiting for a car to take him to Flushing Meadows for the ongoing US Open, was not the man they were looking for.
Racial profiling and the treatment of black individuals by police officers is a hot button topic in the United States at the moment. Blake said he was initially not planning on publicising the incident, but realised he should speak out to try and get the message across that such treatment is not acceptable.
"I have resources to get to the bottom of this. I have a voice," Blake said. "But what about someone who doesn't have those resources and doesn't have a voice?
“The real problem is that I was tackled for no reason and that happens to a lot of people who don't have a media outlet to voice that to.”
Blake said he received an apology from one officer, but not the man who had initially tackled him. Blake suggested that he would be seeking a formal apology from the NYPD, adding: “It’s hard to believe this can still be happening.”