New York City taxpayers won’t be pleased to find out they’re on the hook for another $4 million after the city agreed to settle a federal police brutality lawsuit with Atlanta Hawks forward Thabo Sefolosha.
Sefolosha sued the city after breaking his leg when a group of New York City Police Department officers tackled him outside a nightclub in the early morning hours of April 8, 2015. The injury cost him the rest of that season, including his shot to defend LeBron James in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Hawks wing was charged with resisting arrest, obstruction of governmental administration and disorderly conduct for his alleged role in a dispute with police following the stabbing of then-Indiana Pacers forward Chris Copeland at 1 Oak nightclub in Manhattan. Sefolosha rejected a plea deal and was acquitted of all charges in October 2015. Both before and during the trial, Sefolosha said “the injury was caused by police,” and his defense team argued police profiled “a black man in a hoodie.”
During the proceedings, Sefolosha and police offered differing accounts of the incident. The Hawks forward said police confronted him about clearing the area as he was trying to give money to a homeless man outside the club, at which point fellow Hawk Pero Antic entered the argument. Police placed Antic under arrest on similar charges he too was cleared of, and Sefolosha alleged he touched an officer on the shoulder to ask why his teammate was being arrested. Police contended Sefolosha charged at the officer, and the NBA veteran conceded in court to calling another particularly confrontational officer “a midget” during the encounter that led to him being tackled and injured.
Soon after one court cleared his name, Sefolosha sought justice in another, filing a civil rights lawsuit against the city for upwards of $50 million, alleging police brutality and racial profiling cost him future earnings on and off the court. The city settled for $4 million on Wednesday, per The New York Times. Yet, just as they did at Sefolosha’s trial, the police still contend they did nothing wrong in April 2015:
“This settlement is not a concession that Mr. Sefolosha was blameless in this matter and there was no admission of liability by the defendants,” New York City Law Department spokesman Nick Paolucci told The New York Times on Wednesday, “but in light of the gravity of his injuries, the potential impact on his career as a professional athlete and the challenge for a jury in sorting out the facts in this incident, the resolution of the case was in the best interests of the city.”
The 32-year-old Sefolosha is in the final season of a three-year, $12 million deal he signed in the summer before his arrest. The Swiss national enters free agency producing similar per-minute statistics to his pre-injury averages. Meanwhile, the Yugoslavian Antic has returned overseas to play for Turkish Basketball Super League power Fenerbahce. His federal lawsuit against the city is pending.
Sefolosha’s deal comes after New York City capped 2016 with an annual bill of $258.6 million to settle civil rights and police action lawsuits. That doesn’t include a $5.9 million settlement the city paid to Eric Garner’s family in July 2015 after an NYPD officer’s chokehold led to his death a year earlier.
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