NYPD Settles Thabo Sefolosha Lawsuit For $4 Million

In a rare occurence, police brutality came with consequences for the police

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Apr 06, 2017 at 12:08 PM ET

In April of 2015, Atlanta Hawks guard and forward Thabo Sefolosha got into an altercation with New York City police outside a Manhattan nightclub. The officers outside the club tried to detain Sefolosha and his teammate, Macedonian-born center Pero Antic, breaking Sefolosha’s right fibula in the process. The broken leg and associated ligament damage ended Sefolosha’s season at the worst possible moment for both him and his team: The Hawks had the best record in the Eastern Conference and a reasonable path to winning a championship. Yesterday, the city’s Law Department settled with Sefolosha for $4 million, ending his lengthy, two-year legal battle with the city.

Sefolosha, now 32, is a Swiss citizen of partial South African descent. Which is to say, in the eyes of an American police officer, his skin, face, and hair presented him as a black man. Sefolosha argued via his attorney, Alex Spiro, that his 6’7” height, hoodie, and blackness made him a target for police brutality.

The NYPD argued that Sefolosha and Antic refused to comply with their request to leave the area while they were investigating NBA forward Chris Copeland’s stabbing at the club 1 OAK, an entirely separate incident that happened to occur that same night. Sefolosha and Antic argued with the officers and Sefolosha admitted to calling a 5’6” officer a “midget.” Sefolosha’s sophomoric quip and failure to hastily leave the area resulted in their forcible removal and, inexplicably, a busted leg that required six months of rehab.

Sefolosha is aware that not all black men that get into verbal squabbles with the NYPD live to tell about it. Last September, Sefolosha said that after watching footage of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott, two tall black men shot and killed by Tulsa and Charlotte police, respectively, he “[felt] lucky to be here and to talk about what happened to me.” He added, “It could have went many different ways.”

Fortunately for Sefolosha, it didn’t go the way many black Americans fear whenever they interact with law enforcement. Sefolosha seized the opportunity to expose the racism he experienced and rejected the city’s plea deal. Though going to trial meant risking up to a year of jail time and disciplinary action from the league, Sefolosha chose to have his day in court. And he won.

Between Sefolosha’s criminal court victory against the police and the independent civilian review board ruling that the cops did, in fact, abuse their authority, he had sufficient momentum to pursue a civil rights suit. Sefolosha alleged that the arrest was arbitrary, while also accusing cops of filing a false report and lying under oath. As David Jaroslawicz, Sefolosha’s attorney said, “After they broke the guy’s leg, then they tried to cover it up.” They sought up to $50 million in damages.

Law Department spokesman Nick Paolucci released a statement, claiming that the City’s settlement agreement was “not a concession that Mr. Sefolosha was blameless” in causing his broken leg and unlawful arrest. Rather, he wrote that the payout was nothing more than a quick “resolution of the case [that] was in the best interests of the city.”

No need to clarify. We already knew.