Officers acted unlawfully in threatening, arresting Thabo Sefolosha, review finds

The Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent governmental agency in New York that evaluates police conduct, has found that the officers involved in an April altercation with Atlanta Hawks forward Thabo Sefolosha exercised unlawful abuse of authority in both threatening to use force and arresting Sefolosha, as well as discourtesy.

The arresting officers, however, were not found by the CCRB to have used physical force unlawfully.

The recommended punishment for officer JohnPaul Giacona is the loss of up to five days of vacation for each substantiated allegation and for officer Richard Caster formalized training. New York City police commissioner William Bratton will determine the discipline.

"While we did not initiate the complaint against the police officers, we are pleased that CCRB found his arrest to be completely unlawful," Sefolosha's attorney, Alex Spiro, said.

The CCRB conducted its 38-day investigation by reviewing trial exhibits and testimony and deposing several officers, Sefolosha and additional witnesses.

"Our agency's investigation into this incident was rigorous and thorough, and included interviews with Mr. Sefolosha, nine police officers in total, and a review of video evidence and of the entire transcript of testimony from the criminal trial," the CCRB said. "Using a 'preponderance of the evidence' standard, the Board Panel reached its findings after reviewing the investigation and considering the applicable Patrol Guide procedures and relevant case law."

For many years, CCRB recommendations were regarded as somewhat inconsequential; in the words of former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the CCRB was a "toothless tiger." But in March 2012, an agreement between elected representatives, city officials and the department gave the CCRB new powers to prosecute allegations of misconduct against officers by CCRB attorneys rather than police department employees.

A jury acquitted Sefolosha on Oct. 9 of misdemeanor charges of obstructing government administration, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest stemming from an incident outside a Manhattan nightclub in which the Hawks forward suffered a broken fibula and ligament damage. He missed the remainder of the 2014-15 regular season and the Hawks' playoff run to the Eastern Conference Finals.

In the criminal trial, the prosecution asserted that Sefolosha ignored orders from police to leave the area around a crime scene. The prosecution's case also stated that Sefolosha charged one of the arresting officers. Sefolosha testified that he obeyed the orders. Though he called an 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.

Sefolosha has brought a civil suit against the department and was deposed by lawyers for the city on Nov. 4. A source close to the case said Sefolosha's camp anticipates an initial settlement offer from the city in the coming days.

Meanwhile, the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau is continuing its investigation against the officers, a process that the source said will be accelerated by the CCRB ruling. The IAB's findings are regarded to be more substantive than those of the CCRB.

In 12 games this season, Sefolosha is averaging 6.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists on a true shooting percentage of 56.8 percent. He is posting a career-high 15.54 Player Efficiency Rating.