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Police officer who tackled James Blake files defamation lawsuit

NEW YORK -- The police officer who tackled former pro tennis player James Blake in a mistaken arrest filed a defamation lawsuit Monday against the athlete, the police department and the watchdog group prosecuting his misconduct case.

Officer James Frascatore says in court papers that city officials didn't support him after video surfaced of the 2015 incident outside a Manhattan hotel. He says Blake painted him as an "out of control and corrupt officer" in the book "Ways of Grace," in which the star athlete detailed the arrest.

"The recriminations for mistakenly arresting a celebrity started immediately," according to the lawsuit.

Frascatore said he was initially suspended but then placed on desk duty. He alleges that a police watchdog group tasked with investigating leaked his disciplinary record before the encounter with Blake, and then Blake suggested in television and in print interviews that Frascatore was somehow a dangerous, violent officer. Disciplinary records are supposed to be kept private by law.

"Blake's defamatory statements about Officer Frascatore were circulated to millions of readers and viewers in print, on-line, and through mobile and social media," the lawsuit says.

Police believed Blake was a suspect in a credit card fraud ring. He was tackled by Frascatore and handcuffed, but let go after officers realized their mistake.

The police commissioner at the time and the mayor apologized publicly to Blake. Frascatore was brought up on departmental misconduct charges, and police watchdog lawyers recommended he lose 10 vacation days as punishment for excessive force. Blake has called for Frascatore to be fired. The police commissioner makes the ultimate decision.

Blake's mother is white, and his father is black; Frascatore is white. Blake has said he thought the incident was mostly about excessive force, but also about how communities of color are generally treated. But the defamation lawsuit argues that Frascatore was actually the victim of discrimination based on race, because he was cast as a racist.

"Plaintiff has been cast as a racist and a goon," the lawsuit says. "Though this characterization could not be farther from the truth, this public perception has not only led to his family fleeing their home in fear as a result of public threats to their safety, it has ruined a good man's career, name and reputation."

The lawsuit is seeking damages of $75,000.

"Mr. Blake will respond to this attack on his character with the same grace and dignity that has characterized his response to the attack on his person," said Blake's lawyer, Kevin Marino.

The city's law department said it would review the complaint but couldn't comment while proceedings were pending.

The police watchdog group, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, declined to comment.