It ends where it should have started all along. Atlanta Hawks guard/forward Thabo Sefolosha will find himself in front of a civil jury, if the city of New York does not settle in advance of a trial. A jury will decide if the five named NYPD officers in the just filed civil suit are legally responsible for the racialized aggression and assault, not to mention the cuffing and arrest of Thabo Sefolosha. If the officers are judged responsible for the Sefolosha injuries, both physical and mental, and if they are judged to have been negligent in their job duties, Sefolosha will be awarded punitive and compensatory damages, with $50 million as the high water mark.
How did we get here?
184 days after his April 2015 arrest, Thabo Sefolosha was in Manhattan Criminal Court to face charges of resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and obstruction of government administration. The charges stemmed from a confrontation with the NYPD outside of a Chelsea nightclub on the morning of April 8th.
The police contend that Sefolosha interfered with their ability to do their job, specifically to leave the scene of the Chris Copeland (then an Indiana Pacer) stabbing. Under oath, Sefolosha admitted he and one of the officers engaged in a verbal altercation. But he also admitted he was leaving the scene of the crime, attempting to give a homeless man money when he was swarmed by the NYPD, attacked, thrown to the ground and arrested. In the process, his leg was gruesomely broken, he needed surgery, endured months of pain and rehab, his season with the Hawks was over, he couldn’t sleep or eat without nightmares of that April 8th morning.
The jury found Sefolosha’s version of events credible and trustworthy. But was it $50 million dollars of physical and emotional damage? Or, $5 million? That is the jury’s job to decide.
The suit filed today (April 6th), nearly a year later, was for false arrest, excessive force, malicious prosecution and false imprisonment. The lawsuit also contends the Sefolosha arrest was a racial matter, referring to Sefolosha’s hoodie and his African ancestry.
The NYPD has paid over $400 million dollars to victims since 2009; the average settlement is $33,000. For the year 2015, the city of New York set aside $674 million for the purpose of settlements. Not all of the settlements involve police brutality, some have to do with falling trees, and mistreatment in the prison system and faulty road repair, but police misconduct is factored into the money parceled out to victims.
The NYPD has a long and tortured history of brutality cases that became national stories. Eric Garner was choked to death on a sidewalk even after repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe” eleven times. The officers did not perform CPR or any other life saving measures at the scene. They were not indicted. His family was awarded a settlement of $5.9 million.
Ramarley Graham, a teenager, was shot and killed in his bathroom after a street chase. He was unarmed. Graham’s family received $3.9 million from the city in a settlement. A grand jury chose not to indict the officer who shot him.
Sean Bell was killed on the morning of his own wedding by undercover officers. His family received a $3.25 million settlement. The officers who shot him were found not guilty in a criminal trial.
Timothy Stansbury was killed in a housing project doorway, in a case of mistaken identity. His family was awarded $2 million dollars. The officer who fired the shots was not indicted.
Ousmane Zongo was killed because of mistaken identity. Undercover police were on a sting operation hoping to break up a CD/DVD pirating operation. Zongo worked at the location, turned on a light, and was part of a chase that ended in his death. He was an innocent, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. His family was awarded $3 million. A judge convicted the NYPD officer who shot Ousmane of criminally negligent homicide after a jury deadlocked on manslaughter charges. The officer never went to jail, was given probation, though he lost his NYPD job.
Add Thabo Sefolosha to that list of victims, amount awarded to be determined later.
photo via llananba