Thabo Sefolosha Tells His Story of Assault by the NYPD Pigs...
The Atlanta Hawks' plane touched down in Newark at about 1 A.M. on April 8. Spirits were high. Hours earlier the team had blown out the Suns in Atlanta. Two weeks before that they had clinched the top seed in the NBA's Eastern Conference. New York is a city Thabo Sefolosha, the Hawks' cerebral 31-year-old Swiss–South African shooting guard, has always loved. One of the league's best perimeter defenders, Sefolosha is an indispensable role player—the guy who guards LeBron or Kobe with the game on the line.
After the Hawks checked in at the Ritz in downtown Manhattan, Sefolosha and his teammate Pero Antic headed for 1 Oak, a popular Chelsea nightclub. They arrived around 2:30 A.M. As it happened, another NBA player—the Bucks' Chris Copeland—was also at the club, though Sefolosha didn't know it. At about 4 A.M., Copeland got into an argument on the street outside and was stabbed by another man. The police shut the club down and hundreds of people, including Sefolosha and Antic, ﬂooded West 17th Street.
Two TMZ cell-phone videos show what happened next. At least ﬁve officers violently force Sefolosha, in a black hoodie, to the ground. One officer brandishes a retractable baton over Sefolosha's prone body, then whips it downward. Offscreen, a woman's voice protests, "They didn't do anything!" Sefolosha tells the officers, with astonishing calm, "Relax, man." Eventually he is led away, limping and in handcuffs. His injuries would end his season.
The cops later claimed that Sefolosha hadn't cooperated when they told him to leave the scene and became so aggressive that he "charged" at them. They arrested him for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and obstruction of governmental administration. This fall, Sefolosha rejected multiple plea deals, daring the city to dismiss his case or go to trial.
On October 9, after deliberating for just 45 minutes, a jury exonerated him totally. Two weeks later, he announced that he was suing the New York Police Department for $50 million.
About 4:15 A.M., they turned the lights on at the club and told us it's time to go. Something happened, we're not exactly sure what. The police are outside closing the place down—directing people, telling them to move.
An officer came over to me and said, "Get the hell out!" I said, "Did I do something wrong? You can talk to me in a nicer way." I didn't quite understand why he had to come at us so hard when there were so many other people around. We moved, but he kept telling us to get the hell out. I told him we were listening to him: "You are the police, but you don't have to act like you're the toughest guy on earth." He said, "With or without a badge, I can ? you up." Like, whatever. We're not about to find out. I'm the last guy who gets physical with anybody, especially the police. At the same time, I felt singled out for no reason. He was much shorter than me. [Sefolosha is six feet seven.] I said, "You're a midget, and you're mad." I voiced my opinion, but I kept moving.
By then I was in the street, around many other people. I asked him where he wanted me to go. He said, "Keep moving until I tell you to stop." I joined the rest of the people, next to a pizza place, and that's when five or six or seven other officers surrounded us. It felt like I had done something wrong. Probably they heard what I said and decided, "We're going to make sure this guy knows that we're the police and that basically we rule." They told me I had to leave the scene. They were almost provoking me, challenging me. I didn't want to react to them.
I was just getting into a livery cab—one of the cops opened the door and said, "Get out of here"—when a homeless man asked me for money. I took out twenty bucks. When I made a few steps toward the guy, an officer said, "You're going to jail." Pero tapped the officer on the shoulder and said, "Relax, he didn't do anything." Another officer pushed him in the chest and he fell. That's what the first YouTube video showed—him on the floor.
More officers started grabbing me. I was trying to put the money back in my pocket. Usually I don't carry that much, but I had six or seven hundred dollars in my hand. One officer pulled me from my right arm, another grabbed me on my left, and another grabbed me on the back of my neck. I'm in, like, an on-a-cross type of position. I couldn't even move. It was just chaos. I had never been arrested before. I understood a little bit late that they were trying to put me on the ground, but if somebody grabs your arms and pulls you on your neck, you fall face first.
Somebody kicked my leg, more than once, from the back to force me to the ground. I knew something had happened as soon as they did it; I'm an athlete, so I know how my body should feel. They were stepping on my foot, too, I guess to try to keep me there. I didn't feel like there was anything I could do to calm it down. I tried to show them I was cooperating. I tried.
The main thing in my head, of course, was my leg. Just in that moment, the adrenaline prevented me from feeling too much pain. I noticed the swelling as soon as I got to the police station. At the precinct, it was very painful and I couldn't step on it anymore. They put Pero and me in a cell, then they brought in the guy who they believed had stabbed Copeland, so they moved us out and handcuffed us to some bars. We got out almost 12 hours later, after we had our hearing.
It was a tough meeting with my coach [Mike Budenholzer] at the hotel. Two weeks before the playoffs, the last thing that I wanted to happen was an injury, especially an injury that happened outside of the basketball court, at four in the morning. I really felt like I let the team down. But from the very start he said, "This is not normal. It should have never happened." From that point he had my back.
By the size of my [swollen] foot, I felt like it was super serious. I got X-rays that night from the Nets team doctor at Barclays Center. He said I had separated the ligament on the inside of my ankle, torn the ligaments on the front, side, and outside, and broken my fibula. As soon as he said that, I knew my season was over. The next day, I got a text with the video on it. In the midst of everything that's going on in the last two years on the TV—police this, police that—I couldn't believe something like this had happened to me. It was just unreal that something so small could turn into something this big.
I had surgery in Charlotte a week later. They went in and reattached the ligaments with a wire. They told me it would be months before I could go back on the court. For a time I couldn't even go upstairs and put my kids to bed. I had nightmares. I would wake up sweating in the middle of the night. I was dreaming not necessarily of that exact moment but more of the whole feeling about it—half scared, half nervous. It felt like I had been just one wrong move away from something much more serious happening. It was a long summer for me. I had nights where I came back after watching the team play, just feeling defeated and angry that all this had happened, and for no reason.
Everybody on my team had been counting on me. I don't get a lot of publicity for it because I never toot my own horn, but yeah, I think I'm possibly the best, or one of the best, defenders in this league. Not in a selfish way, but I like to think that maybe with me, we would have had a chance to win a title. I think I would have done a great job on LeBron [whose Cavs defeated the Hawks in the Conference Finals]. Watching my team from the bench was the worst experience a basketball player can have.
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