While waiting for a car to take him to the US Open on Wednesday, retired tennis player James Blake was slammed to the ground by an undercover NYPD detective who had mistaken him for a suspect in a credit card fraud investigation.
Blake, once ranked No. 4 in the world, was standing outside New York’s Grand Hyatt Hotel when the detective ran up to him, and – as he explained Thursday on Good Morning America – “picked me up and body-slammed me and put me on the ground…told me to turn over and shut my mouth, and put the cuffs on me.”
According to The New York Daily News, Blake was handcuffed and held for 15 minutes by five plainclothes detectives before they agreed to check his identification. It was only when a retired NYPD officer recognized Blake and notified the detectives that he was released. The undercover detectives were reportedly using an Instagram photo to identify a suspect in an ongoing fraud case. NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said the man in the picture had “a remarkable likeness to James Blake.”
Later on Thursday, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton told reporters that he would like to extend his apologies to Blake for the incident, adding that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also wanted to apologize.
Bratton said he had concerns about “the inappropriateness of the amount of force that was used” after an initial review of video evidence of the arrest. Bratton also said the team of undercover detectives involved had failed to report the incident, a violation of NYPD practices.
In a statement issued Thursday, the United States Tennis Association said it was “deeply concerned about this troubling incident,” and added that Blake “is the embodiment of a model citizen whose triumphs on and off the court continue to inspire tennis fans and non-fans alike.”
During his GMA interview, Blake told Robin Roberts that didn’t view the event as a race issue – the detectives involved were all white, and Blake is the son of a black father and white mother. Rather, he said it was another example of police officers using excessive force. After seeing what happened with Eric Garner last year, Blake made it clear to the detectives that he’d fully cooperate because he didn’t want to be harmed.
“I’m happy that I was actually smiling at the person, because I could see how if I put my arms up or if I did anything it could be a sign of showing some sort of resistance,” he said. “Instead of having a little bruise on my leg, I might have some broken bones or some actual injuries because it didn’t seem like he was slowing down.
“I’d like an apology,” Blake continued. “I’d like an explanation for how they conducted themselves. I think we all need to be held accountable for our actions, and police as well. I do think that most cops are doing a great job, but when you police with reckless abandon you need to be held accountable.”