Incidents Like James Blake's NYPD Run-In Are Costing The Department — And Taxpayers — Millions Every Year
On Thursday, legendary tennis player James Blake spoke publicly about being tackled by NYPD officers and handcuffed during a disturbing case of mistaken identity. Speaking to Good Morning America host Robin Roberts, Blake said that while was in midtown Manhattan for the U.S. Open, he was thrown to the ground and handcuffed by a plainclothes NYPD officer. The case is currently under investigation, but could cost the department millions should Blake file suit. In 2014, the NYPD paid more in settlement claims than any other single agency, according to the New York Post.
Claims against the New York Police Department cost taxpayers a whopping $216.9 million last year — more than the department has ever been forced to pay in the last ten fiscal years.
Blake, who was once a top-ten tennis champion, told GMA that he was standing outside the Grand Hyatt New York waiting for transportation to the U.S. Open on Wednesday when a man in shorts and a t-shirt began running up to him.
I was standing there just waiting, minding my own business, and I saw someone coming from the street running directly at me.
Blake said he first thought the person was an old friend or classmate rushing in for a bear hug. He told Roberts that when he realized that he was being handcuffed, his first words were to help diffuse the situation:
The first words out of my mouth were, "I'm going to 100 percent cooperate. I don't want any incident or whatever," just out of reaction from what I've seen in the media.
The officer, who Blake said did not immediately identify himself, was soon joined by four more NYPD officers who detained him for 15 minutes before realizing they had the wrong person. Luckily, the tennis champ remembered that his tournament credentials were in his pocket:
I said, "Look, officer, I'm scared, so if I say something wrong, I'm sorry, but I just want to know what’s going on. I think you have the wrong person." I had my credential for the U.S. Open in my back pocket and [I said], "Please check that. You can tell I'm a former player. It’s a final eight badge. It means I did pretty well at the U.S. Open. I'd like to clear my name."
In recent years, the New York Police Department has been at the center of a swarm of allegations of false arrest and harassment charges that forced the agency to pay claims of $216.9 million in 2014, according to the New York Post.
The city's comptroller announced this week on the agency's website that the last months of Bloomberg's tenure and the first month's under de Blasio had seen a record 9,500 tort claims against the city's police officers. That includes everything from false arrest cases to allegations of personal property damage and wrongful convictions.
In his report, New York Comptroller Scott Stringer attributed much of the spike to wrongful arrests during the 2011 Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. The effects of claims during protests against police brutality over the last 18 months are not included in the comptroller's report, as they are not yet resolved.
Speaking to Good Morning America on Thursday, Blake said he feels lucky that he was able to remain calm during his encounter with the officers:
I'm happy that my reaction was that I was actually smiling at the person, because I could see how if I put my arms up or if I did anything it could be a sign of showing some sort of resistance. And instead of having a little bruise on my leg, I might have some broken bones or some actual injuries, because it didn't seem like he was slowing down and he was gonna continue that tackle.
Of course, cases like the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner prove that Blake's concerns aren't without merit. But if Blake's encounter had taken a turn towards disaster, the NYPD itself would not be on the financial hook. The American Prospect reported earlier this year that wrongful death cases like the $5.9M settlement won by Eric Garner's family typically come from the city's general fund or insurance plan. Those claims are still covered by taxpayer, but not the department itself.
Still, James Blake, a Harvard graduate with plans to run the New York Marathon this fall, told Roberts that he was most interested in hearing an apology from Police Commissioner Bill Bratton: "I'd like an apology. I'd like an explanation for how they conducted themselves because I think we all need to be held accountable for our actions, and police as well."
Commissioner Bratton said in a press conference on Thursday that he'd ordered an internal investigation of the incident and hoped to soon extend his personal apology to Blake.