Atlanta Hawks forward Thabo Sefolosha and his former teammate, Pero Antic, are suing New York City and several of its police officers over an April 2015 nightclub incident that ended Sefolosha’s season and landed them both in jail, according to court documents.
Sefolosha filed the lawsuit Wednesday, a few days after Antic.
According to his complaint, Sefolosha suffered torn ligaments and a fracture to his right fibula, requiring surgery, because of the injuries caused by New York police officers who had targeted him because he was a “large black man wearing a hoodie.”
The injuries ended Sefolosha’s 2015 NBA season just days before the his team entered the NBA Playoffs as the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed. Sefolosha, a stalwart defender, would’ve been tapped to guard superstar LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals, which the Hawks lost in four straight games.
Sefolosha’s lawsuit accuses five NYPD officers involved in his arrest of assault and battery, false arrest and imprisonment.
The Swiss-born NBA player states in the lawsuit that the incident with the NYPD has now jeopardized his basketball career and tarnished his reputation. “His value as a player has been adversely affected since plaintiff is now ‘damaged goods’ in the sports world,” according to the lawsuit.
Both Sefolosha and Antic faced charges that they allege were fabricated by police. The New York County District Attorney’s Office dismissed disorderly conduct and obstruction charges against Antic in September.
“The (New York Police Department) has all but conceded that they falsely and improperly arrested Pero Antic. They will now be held responsible,” said attorney Alex Spiro, who will represent both men.
A New York jury found Sefolosha not guilty of the same charges, and an additional count of resisting arrest, the following month. Jurors deliberated for 45 minutes.
How did this start?
The incident began about 3 a.m. on April 8, 2015. Antic and Sefolosha had finished a game in Atlanta and flown to New York, where they visited celebrity hotspot 1OAK, a club in the city’s Chelsea neighborhood.
As the two were in the club, another pro hoopster, Chris Copeland, who was not with Antic and Sefolosha, was stabbed outside the club, in front of the Fulton Houses projects down the street, according to a 1OAK statement.
The club shut down immediately after the incident, 1OAK said. According to Antic’s lawsuit, he and Sefolosha were told the club was closing and made their way to the exit.
“As the plaintiff was exiting the lounge, members of the NYPD were forcefully pushing patrons that were exiting the club … and demanding they walk in a particular direction,” the lawsuit says.
A NYPD officer, listed as a defendant in the lawsuit, “began harassing” Sefolosha, who in return called him a “midget.” Shortly after, several officers jumped on Sefolosha and forced him to the ground, according to his lawsuit. During this incident, the NBA player says one of the police officers used his baton “causing severe personal injuries, including a fracture of the right fibula and torn ligaments, requiring surgery.”
Then what happened?
Antic’s lawsuit states: “When members of the NYPD were pushing and shoving Mr. Sefolosha to the ground, plaintiff asked why they were treating Mr. Sefolosha in such a forceful manner. The defendants then forcefully pushed plaintiff to the ground and then ordered him to remain there. The plaintiff did not resist at any time.”
“The plaintiff was arrested for simply standing on the sidewalk and being a witness to unlawful NYPD actions.”
A police report obtained by CNN affiliate WABC alleged that Sefolosha had interfered with the Copeland crime scene, but the station noted that the Hawks appeared to be more than 100 feet away from the spot where Copeland was stabbed.
Shortly after the incident, TMZ Sports released video that shows a group of police officers arresting the 6-foot-7 Sefolosha and taking him to the ground. It also shows an officer producing a baton and extending it, but what may have caused the injury is not clear in the video. Sefolosha limped as officers led him away. In video taken the next morning, officers escort a limping Sefolosha out of a police station.
Blow to Hawks’ championship hopes?
Sefolosha blamed the NYPD for his injuries and was forced to sit out the playoffs. He and Antic vowed to fight the charges.
“I am extremely disappointed that I will not be able to join my teammates on the court during the playoffs and apologize to them for any distraction this incident has caused,” Sefolosha said at the time.
Sefolosha returned to the Hawks this season and has played 70 games for them so far. Antic, a Macedonian, now plays for Fenerbahçe in the Turkish Basketball Super League.
Sefolosha’s suit alleges that the police realized that their treatment of a “well-educated, professional basketball player and this type of conduct would not go unnoticed.” He accuses the police of pressing “purely fabricated charges” against the two.
What else does the lawsuit say?
Among the other allegations outlined by both lawsuits are that the NYPD falsely arrested them, administered excessive force, maliciously prosecuted them and negligently hired, trained and supervised its officers.
Because of the NYPD’s actions, the lawsuits allege that both men incurred legal fees, lost earnings or endorsements, suffered emotional, physical, reputation and economic harm.
It further claims that their Fourth Amendment rights were violated.
Both Felosha and Antic have requested a jury trial. The notices of claim filed last year indicate Antic can recover as much as $25 million, while Sefolosha is eligible to receive up to $50 million, according to multiple media reports.
Reached for comment, the NYPD responded, “Due to pending litigation, we will refrain from commenting on this case. Please be referred to the Law Department for comment.”
A spokesman for the New York City Law Department, said, “All the allegations in the complaint will be reviewed once we are served.”