Disciplinary trial of officer who arrested James Blake ends

NEW YORK — The internal disciplinary trial of a police officer who tackled retired pro tennis player James Blake and slammed him to the ground in a mistaken arrest concluded Tuesday, but the public and even Blake aren’t entitled to the details of any possible punishment.

Officers’ disciplinary records are secret under state law, city officials say. Blake said he expects to be told the outcome by the police watchdog group that brought the case, but it’s not a right.

"That I’m not entirely entitled to know what happens when it involved me just makes no sense," Blake told The Associated Press. "Something needs to change."

Officer James Frascatore, who arrested Blake outside a Manhattan hotel in 2015, has been accused of using inappropriate force on someone who never resisted or tried to flee. Frascatore was part of an undercover operation targeting credit card fraud and mistakenly thought Blake was one of the suspects. The arrest was captured on security video.

Lawyers for the police watchdog group prosecuting the case recommended Frascatore forfeit 10 vacation days as a punishment. The trial judge makes a recommendation about the punishment, but the police commissioner decides what punishment, if any, is handed out.

The mayor and the former police commissioner publicly apologized to the ex-tennis star after his bogus arrest.

Blake, who has a black father and a white mother, said 10 days of lost vacation was laughable and called on the mayor and the commissioner to fire Frascatore, who’s white, and to make the decision public. He said it’s especially important to send a message to communities of colour.

"I hope that this is a case that breaks the mould a little bit," Blake said. "Not just for me, but for everyone."

A recent city decision to adhere to the confidentiality rules more closely has made the New York Police Department at odds with a wider city effort to be more transparent. NYPD officials have said they would like to see the law changed, but it’s up to Albany lawmakers.

Blake, as the complaining witness, would be entitled to a general idea of the conclusion of the case. In the past year, the police watchdog, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, started sending letters updating complaining witnesses on the police commissioner’s rulings.

The issue came up during a previous trial for Officer Richard Haste, who shot and killed unarmed teenager Ramarley Graham in 2012. But Haste quit before the police commissioner could make the decision.

On Tuesday, Frascatore’s attorney Stephen Worth argued that Frascatore "took extreme care" when arresting Blake. Frascatore has said he was told Blake may be armed with a knife.

"He took him down in the most minimally invasive way he could," Worth said.

But an attorney for the Civilian Complaint Review Board, Jonathan Fogel, said the violence was extreme and unnecessary.

"Where does it stop? This unprovoked violence has no place in society," he said.

Blake said he hopes by talking publicly he can give a voice to those abused by authorities.

"I can speak up and ask them to set an example," he said of city officials. "I hope they do."