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Lawyer: Cops targeted Hawks' Thabo Sefolosha because he's black

A white police officer singled out a black professional basketball player as he filed out of a trendy Manhattan nightclub this year, sparking a confrontation that resulted in the player's arrest and a season-ending leg fracture, a defense lawyer told jurors yesterday.

"I don't know what he saw," attorney Alex Spiro said of the officer, JohnPaul Giacona, who first told the Atlanta Hawks' Thabo Sefolosha to clear the area early on April 8. "I think he saw a black man in a hoodie."

Sefolosha, 30, has been charged with misdemeanor obstructing government administration, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. He pleaded not guilty and refused a plea deal.

But a prosecutor said Tuesday that the 6-foot-6-inch Sefolosha acted entitled and disdainful to officers trying to clear hundreds of people off a street after an earlier stabbing outside the club by calling the 5-foot-7-inch Giacona "a midget."

"The defendant does not think he needs to obey the law," said Jesse Matthews, an assistant district attorney. "He does not like being told what to do."

Giacona had just completed three years on the job.

The case stems from a struggle outside the 1Oak nightclub in Chelsea after Indiana Pacers forward Chris Copeland and two other women were stabbed.

Officers from a cabaret unit charged with patrolling area bars and clubs responded to the stabbing and ordered hundreds of partygoers off the block, a police sergeant testified yesterday. Sefolosha, his teammate Pero Antic and two other women were told by Giacona to leave the block.

Charges against Antic have since been dropped.

Sefolosha disobeyed those orders, then charged at an officer whose back was turned before he was stopped by officers and eventually taken to the ground and arrested, court documents show.

But pressed by Spiro during cross-examination, Giacona admitted that although he had previously said he asked Sefolosha to move off the block six times, he only remembered doing so at least three times. He also said he didn't know how the Swiss national's leg was injured or hear the sound of batons being deployed.

Spiro played video surveillance footage for jurors that showed patrons who were closer to the crime scene tape than Sefolosha and his friends were.

Six police officers will be called as witnesses for the prosecution, but the judge, Robert Mandelbaum, has denied a defense motion to view their personnel files.

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