Retired tennis star James Blake seemed relaxed and without a care in the world as an undercover officer rushed up to him and wrestled him to the ground outside a Manhattan hotel Wednesday in a case of mistaken identity, according to a surveillance video released Friday by the NYPD.
The video footage, taken by a camera in the taxi driveway of the Grand Hyatt hotel on 42nd Street, showed a nonchalant Blake standing against a building pillar as Officer James Frascatore of Oceanside suddenly enters the frame from the right and grapples with him before taking him down to the sidewalk.
At one point Frascatore's right arm seems close to getting into a chokehold but appears to actually be resting on Blake's right shoulder before sliding off. Blake was then cuffed behind his back as he was face down.
After cops discovered that Blake had been mistakenly identified, the former tennis star had his hands unshackled and was set free.
The release of the video came a day after NYPD Commissioner William Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio apologized Thursday to Blake, who police said was interviewed Thursday night by the NYPD's internal affairs bureau. The investigation is ongoing.
Thursday night, Bratton released a statement saying that he had "personally apologized for yesterday's incident . . . Mr. Blake said he would like to meet with the mayor and me at a future date, which we would be agreeable to."
A law enforcement source said a number of police officials were on the line as Bratton talked with Blake in what was described as a "positive" conversation.The apology came amid persistent questions over why Blake, 35, was detained while waiting at the Grand Hyatt for a ride to the U.S. Open.
Frascatore, 38, has been placed on modified duty and an independent watchdog group has opened an investigation.
Blake released a statement Friday saying, "When this incident was reported in the news media, Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Bratton both called me to extend their personal apologies, and I greatly appreciate those gestures. But extending courtesy to a public figure mistreated by the police is not enough. As I told the Commissioner, I am determined to use my voice to turn this unfortunate incident into a catalyst for change in the relationship between the police and the public they serve. For that reason, I am calling upon the City of New York to make a significant financial commitment to improving that relationship, particularly in those neighborhoods where incidents of the type I experienced occur all too frequently."
PBA president Patrick J. Lynch said Friday NYPD officers regret any embarrassment or injury suffered by Mr. Blake as a result. "The police officer was apprehending what he had every reason to believe was an individual who had just committed a crime. The apprehension was made under fluid circumstances where the subject might have fled and the officer did a professional job of bringing the individual to the ground to prevent that occurrence," Lynch said in a written statement.
Blake said he was outside the hotel waiting for a taxi to the U.S. Open when a man later identified as Frascatore charged him and threw him to the ground. The officer did not identify himself as a member of the NYPD at the time, Blake said.
The 60-second silent video showed Frascatore rushing up to Blake, grabbing him by the chest and forcibly turning him around. At that point an apparently startled Blake, who reportedly said he thought at first the cop was a friend or fan, appeared on the video to offer slight resistance and was quickly brought down by Frascatore.
Some passersby glanced at the two men but many on the video appeared to pay no attention to the pair as they tussled. One woman is seen on the video telling Frascatore that something fell out of his rear pants pocket, which he retrieved as he stood up with Blake in custody.
NYPD officials said a confidential witness mistakenly identified Blake during an undercover investigation into cellphone fraud. Blake told reporters Wednesday that "it shouldn't have happened and it's something that we'll deal with the police and we'll find out what they have to say internally."
Earlier Thursday in an interview on CNN, Bratton said that Blake, who is black, had a striking resemblance to a suspect in the investigation.
"If you look at the photograph of the suspect, it looks like the twin brother of Mr. Blake," Bratton said, adding that "race had nothing to do with this."
In his four years as a cop, Frascatore had four complaints filed against him with the Civilian Complaint Review Board, said a police official familiar with the case. One case led to Frascatore's exoneration, one was dismissed and another was sustained for the minor infraction of not disclosing his name tag, said the official, adding that details on the fourth complaint were unavailable.Frascatore is also named with a number of other police officers as a defendant in two lawsuits over unnecessary force filed in Brooklyn federal court. Both cases relate to events in 2013. In a docket entry filed Friday, the court noted that the city and lawyers for the plaintiffs were in settlement discussions.
Outside Frascatore's Oceanside home Friday, reporters waited for him to appear, while neighbors on the tranquil street defended the NYPD veteran.
"I've known him to be a good cop who cares about his job," said neighbor Frank Abramo, 63, a retired restaurant owner. "I'm sure he thought he was doing the right thing."
Frascatore could not be reached for comment.
Friday evening, de Blasio and Bratton issued a statement saying the city will try to learn from the incident and is investing millions to retrain about 22,000 uniformed service members. "This Administration will continue to vigorously implement these reforms that build trust and respect between police officers and the people they serve, while also keeping New York City the safest big city in America. And we both stand ready to meet with Mr. Blake to further discuss these issues and initiatives," the prepared statement read.