An investigation by the Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent governmental agency in New York that evaluates police conduct, has regained momentum after the acquittal of Atlanta Hawks forward Thabo Sefolosha, sources close to the case said on Friday.
In an incident with officers on April 8 outside 1 Oak, a Manhattan nightclub, Sefolosha suffered a broken leg, an injury he said came at the hands of the arresting officers. On Oct. 9, a jury acquitted Sefolosha of misdemeanor charges of obstructing government administration, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
In the criminal trial, the prosecution asserted that Sefolosha ignored orders from police to leave the area around a crime scene where Chris Copeland, then a forward with the Indiana Pacers, was stabbed. The prosecution's case also stated that Sefolosha charged one of the arresting officers.
Sefolosha testified that he obeyed the orders. Though he called a combative officer at the scene a midget, Sefolosha said, he was grabbed by several officers and pulled to the ground as he stopped to hand money to a panhandler.
Before the criminal trial, the district attorney offered to dismiss the charges against Sefolosha after six months in exchange for one hour of community service. Despite the favorable terms, Sefolosha rejected the plea deal, opting to go to court.
"He's innocent and he wants to be vindicated," Sefolosha's attorney, Alex Spiro, said at the time.
The CCRB performed a preliminary investigation prior to Sefolosha's trial and interviewed the five officers involved in the incident. But because Sefolosha and witness accounts were known only to the defense, the scope of the investigation was limited. With the acquittal of Sefolosha, the CCRB will now have have access to a broader range of witness testimony.
If the investigation by the CCRB found officers at fault and the allegations are substantiated, the board would recommend to the police commissioner specific disciplinary action. According to sources familiar with the process, it is unusual for the commissioner not to follow the recommendation of the CCRB.
Spiro declined to comment on the state of the case and the possibility of any civil action against the department.
On Wednesday, National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts said that Sefolosha had the full support of the players union as he pursues additional legal action against the police department.
"He had a criminal case and we had to respect that," Roberts said during a question-and-answer session at the espnW: Women + Sports Summit in Dana Point, California. "He now has a civil litigation if he wants to pursue it. I can't even tell you how horrific the experience he had was. It was just dreadful."