Former pro tennis star James Blake testified on Tuesday that a plainclothes police officer wearing a T-shirt and jeans didn't identify himself before throwing him to the ground and handcuffing him in a mistaken arrest in 2015 outside a Manhattan hotel.
"He never said 'NYPD.' He never said 'officer,"' Blake said at a disciplinary trial for Officer James Frascatore. "He never said 'freeze,' like you'd see in the movies."
In his own testimony Frascatore told an administrative judge that once a superior misidentified Blake as a target of a credit card fraud operation, he dashed through traffic across 42nd Street and sneaked up on Blake to keep "an element of surprise," having been warned that the suspects could be armed with knives. He said he waited to tell Blake "police don't move" as he took him down with an authorized "arm bar" manoeuvr.
"I wanted to get control of the situation first," he said in his first public account of the episode.
The officers also testified that he apologized to Blake once the blunder was discovered. Blake said that never happened.
The dueling accounts came two years after Blake's arrest – captured in a security video – became another flashpoint in the national debate over police use of force against unarmed black men. The 37-year-old American, once the No. 4 tennis player in the world, is the child of a black father and white mother; Frascatore is white.
Frascatore, 40, rejected a deal earlier this year asking him to forfeit vacation days to resolve New York Police Department internal charges that he used inappropriate force on someone who never resisted or tried to flee. The judge will recommend a potentially more severe punishment, including dismissal from the nation's largest police force, to the police commissioner.
"This officer should not have a job," Blake said later Tuesday after joining a group of police reform activists gathered outside police headquarters.
Earlier in the day, Blake testified that during the 10 minutes he was handcuffed, Frascatore told him, "You know you're safe, right?" He said he responded: "I don't know I'm safe. I don't know why I'm here."
When it was over, the officer offered a handshake, but didn't apologize, Blake said. Blake said his first instinct was to "tough it out and walk it off," but his wife changed his mind by asking what he'd do if the same thing happened to her.
"It shouldn't happen to me. It shouldn't happen to anyone," he testified. "There needs to be accountability for everybody."
The NYPD has said that Blake matched a photo of a suspect sought in the case and that race wasn't a factor. It also initially claimed that Blake had only been detained for a couple minutes and was never manhandled or handcuffed, he says in his new book, "Ways of Grace."
In the book, he describes seeking out hotel security personnel, who showed him the video proving he was slammed down and kept cuffed at least 10 minutes. He then spoke out about it on ABC's "Good Morning America," which he says forced the department to release the video and change its story.
After the video was made public, city and police officials took the unusual step of apologizing and establishing in Blake's name a fellowship aimed at helping people get full reviews of abuse allegations from a police oversight agency.
In an opening statement, attorney Stephen Worth argued his client was being charged "because James Blake is a celebrity," he said. But outside the courtroom, Blake told reporters there was another reason.
"I don't think we'd be here if we didn't have video," he said.