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Watchdog Agency Finds NYPD Used Excess Force Against James Blake

Two officers involved in the mistaken arrest of the tennis star could now face departmental discipline.

Last updated on July 3, 2018, at 1:27 p.m. ET

Posted on October 7, 2015, at 6:23 p.m. ET

Maddie Meyer / Getty Images

An independent investigation by the Civilian Complaint and Review Board found that the the New York Police Department officer who mistakenly arrested James Blake last month used excessive force during the takedown, a lawyer for the retired tennis star confirmed to BuzzFeed News on Wednesday.

"I appreciate the efforts of the CCRB to advance this investigation," Blake said in a statement.

The NYPD arrested Blake on Sep. 9, after a group of plainclothes officers mistook him for a suspect in a credit card fraud scheme. The violent arrest, in which an officer tackled the athlete without warning, was captured on video. It soon emerged neither Blake nor the suspect, both of whom are black, had any connection to the scheme.

"We have been made aware of the CCRB’s findings. The department’s internal review is still on-going," the NYPD said in a statement.

Although Blake was not seriously injured, the incident unleashed a public relations crisis for the NYPD, which still struggles with allegations of racial profiling and excessive force. Both Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton issued rare public apologies to the athlete, who said he welcomed the apologies but insisted that the city take substantive steps to address the issues.

The CCRB's finding opens the door for a departmental trial against Officer James Frascatore, who tackled Blake, and Detective Daniel Herzog, who was also involved in the arrest. The two officers will have an advocate who will contrast their side of the story with the CCRB's finding. In the end, Commissioner Bratton will have the final say on whether the officers will be disciplined, and if so in what form.

Mina Malik, the CCRB's executive director, said in a statement that the agency remains committed to being "a fair and vigilant resource for all people who have complaints about police misconduct, and to judge the cases based on thorough, even-handed investigations which serve the public and officers alike." Malik added that the agency is prohibited by law from disclosing the results of any investigation.

The president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the largest NYPD union, also did not respond to a request for comment.

"Even with the facts that have come to light that contradicts media reports about this stop, it is still no surprise that the CCRB — which continues to be nothing more than cop-hating branch of the New York Civil Liberties Union — would substantiate the use of force complaint in such a questionably public manner," Patrick J. Lynch said in a statement. "Clearly the officer did not strike the individual or seek to harm him in any way. He used an acceptable technique to gain compliance during a complex ongoing operation in a manner that did not compromise the simultaneous arrest being made a short distance away. An objective review of these facts will vindicate the officers involved."

The release of the CCRB's investigation into Blake's case comes just days after a damning report on the NYPD's use of force by the Office of the Inspector General, another oversight agency. The OIG found that 36% of a sample of officers who were found by the CCRB to have used excessive force did not receive any punishment.

On the same day as the OIG released it's report, Commissioner Bratton unveiled a large-scale plan to overhaul the departments use-of-force policies. The new guidelines, which among other policies would require officers to intervene whenever one of their colleagues uses excessive force, are expected to go into effect early next year.