On Tuesday, NYPD officer James Frascatore, who allegedly used excessive force when mistakenly arresting former tennis champion James Blake in front of a New York City hotel two years ago, filed a federal defamation lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New York against Blake.
In the lawsuit, Frascatore says that during media appearances this summer while promoting his new book, “Ways of Grace,” Blake has “libeled, slandered, and defamed” him by repeatedly characterizing the officer as “a racist and a goon.” Frascatore adds that by portraying him as a racist, Blake and other NYC agencies have “intentionally discriminated against [the officer] on the basis of race.”
Yes, that’s right — Frascatore insists that he is the real victim of racism in all of this.
This all began more than two years ago, when Blake was in New York City for the U.S. Open. While he waited outside of his hotel, calmly leaning against the wall and waiting for his ride, a plainclothes NYPD officer charged at him, picked him up, spun him around and slammed him to the ground before handcuffing him. The apprehension was so physical that Blake, who never once physically resisted or fought back, was left with a bruised leg and a cut arm. He insists that Frascatore never once identified himself as an officer.
“I’m going to do whatever you say. I’m going to cooperate,” Blake reportedly said to Frascatore as soon as he could speak. “But do you mind if I ask what this is all about?”
Only later did Blake find out that he had been misidentified as a suspect in an ongoing credit card fraud investigation.
The incident made national headlines when Blake spoke publicly about the attack with the New York Daily News, and after security footage of the attack was released. But despite the excessive attention the case has received, accountability has been slow-moving.
Almost two years ago, the Civilian Complaint Review Board determined that there was no reason for Frascatore to use force against Blake. But the hearing was delayed due to ongoing attempts to settle matters behind the scenes. In June, Blake agreed not to sue the city of New York in exchange for a legal fellowship in his name that will investigate police misconduct.
In July, Frascatore rejected a plea deal that would have merely resulted in a loss of 10 vacation days.
Last month, the NYPD held a public, four-day disciplinary hearing to determine whether or not Frascatore used excessive force during the encounter. The officer defended himself by saying that he identified himself as police to Blake, and that his actions were justified because he was told that the suspect he was supposed to be apprehending might be armed with dangerous knives.
Now, it’s just a waiting game to see what the judge decides. Unfortunately, the results of that disciplinary hearing likely won’t be made public due to clause 50-a, a civil rights law in New York that forbids the release of personnel records of police officers, firefighters, and correction officers. Clause 50-a was also controversially invoked during the hearing to close the courtroom to let a retired police officer, who was being used as an expert witness in the case, testify about his role in a ticket-fixing scandal.
Blake has publicly pleaded for the city to be open about the findings from the hearing. He also wants Frascatore to lose his job, not just vacation days. After all, this is not the first excessive force complaint waged against him.
“If the system doesn’t protect who it’s supposed to protect, what do you do? I know they have a difficult job and do this with unbelievable strength and courage,” Blake told USA Today. “There are a lot of good police officers. There are also bad officers. There is no reason to protect officers who do things the wrong way.
“The ones who do things the right way should be more outspoken. … It’s made me much more aware of a lack of accountability. It muddies the credibility of the good officers.”
Frascatore isn’t singling out Blake in his lawsuit — he is also suing Harper Collins, the publisher of Blake’s book, the CCRB, and the NYPD.
“Top NYPD supervisors, including the Police Commissioner, also rushed to blame [Frascatore] for the failures of his superiors and what amounted to an unfortunate mistake,” the complaint reads. “They actively avoided opportunities to set the record straight with the media and offered no defense of their own dedicated officer, leaving [Frascatore] to hold the bag for the entire incident.”