NYPD Chief Apologizes to James Blake for Mistaken Identity Arrest

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton apologized Thursday to former tennis star James Blake, who was thrown to the ground and handcuffed by undercover NYPD while leaving his Manhattan hotel Wednesday in what authorities said was a case of mistaken identity.

Bratton, who said earlier in the day that what Blake experienced should never have happened, said Blake indicated he would be willing to meet with internal affairs investigators to discuss the confrontation. The police chief also said Blake planned to return the mayor's earlier call.

"Mr. Blake said he would like to meet with the mayor and me at a future date, which we would be agreeable to," Bratton added.

Blake, a Yonkers native who was ranked in the top 10 in the world at the peak of his tennis career, says he was tackled to the ground and handcuffed by undercover investigators outside the Grand Hyatt Hotel on East 42nd Street Wednesday as he waited for a car to take him to Flushing Meadows.

Police said a courier working with a team of undercover detectives investigating a fraudulent internet credit card ring wrongly identified Blake as one of the suspects with whom he had worked. Bratton said video shows officers approaching the former tennis star rapidly, grabbing him by the arm and taking him down to the ground, where he was immediately handcuffed.

Bratton said Blake did not appear to resist the arrest and, that based on the video of the confrontation he reviewed, the use of force by the officer who handcuffed Blake appeared to be inappropriate. Internal affairs is investigating the case. In the meantime, the arresting officer's badge and gun have been stripped and he has been placed on modified duty, Bratton said.

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"The use of force is such that I'm comfortable that it's in the best interest of the department to place the officer on modified assignment," Bratton said.

Former tennis star James Blake tells reporters that he hopes there’s video of his encounter with cops earlier Wednesday, when he was swarmed in a case of mistaken identity.

He reiterated that Blake was 100 percent innocent of any involvement in the scheme, and said that once officers realized he was not involved he was immediately released from custody.

What happened should not have happened, Bratton said. 

Bratton said five of the six officers investigating the financial fraud operation have been interviewed, but authorities have yet to speak with the officer who pinned Blake to the ground. They want to speak with Blake first.

Bratton said the internal affairs investigation will focus not only on whether the use of force was appropriate, but whether certain administrative protocols were violated in the follow-up documentation of the wrongful arrest.

On Thursday, Blake said on ABC's "Good Morning America" that he wasn't hurt but is still "a little shaken up" by the exchange. He said he wanted an apology.

"We all need to be held accountable for our actions, police as well," Blake said on the show.

He added, "Most cops are doing a great job at keeping us safe, but when you police with reckless abandon, you need to be held accountable ... those that are doing police work the wrong way need to pay for their actions. They need to either be shown the door or be punished."

"I'm happy that my reaction was that I was smiling at the person because I see if I put up my arms up or anything it could be seen as resistance and instead of a bruise I could have some broken bones or serious injuries," he said.

He added, "I'm lucky enough to be able to tell this story."

Blake, who is biracial, told ABC Thursday he didn't think the case was an instance of racial profiling. A day earlier, though, he told reporters he thought race played a role in the arrest.

Bratton said the wrongful arrest was an issue of potentially excessive force, not one of race. 

NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said the wrongful arrest stems from an undercover investigation launched Monday after an internet provider through which users go online and buy property to have delivered notified authorities of 16 transactions through American Express cards that turned out to be fraudulent.

Detectives asked the internet company to let them know if the cards were used again, and when they were, they requested a controlled delivery of the property that had been bought with them.

The delivery of the package, which was high-end designer shoes in this case, was set for Wednesday at the concierge desk of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Boyce said.

Authorities had an Instagram photo of one of the three suspects believed to be involved, and Boyce said that man, who later turned out not to be involved at all but whose name was being used by the suspects, looked almost identical to Blake.

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"They look like twins," Boyce said of the resemblance.

Undercover detectives were stationed outside the Grand Hyatt at the pre-arranged meeting time, where they saw a British citizen purchase the shoes from the courier. The Brit, who has been in New York since late August on a student visa, was arrested after making the deal on identity theft and grand larceny charges. Right after the arrest, the courier pointed out a man standing 8 feet away and said he was another suspect who had bought property from him. That man was Blake.

Internal affairs detectives are investigating claims by former tennis professional James Blake that he was thrown to the ground and then handcuffed while mistakenly being arrested Wednesday at a Manhattan hotel, police said. Brynn Gingras reports.

Boyce confirmed the courier had incorrectly identified the tennis player as a suspect. He also said a second man believed to have been legitimately involved in the theft ring was arrested in the hotel.

At the height of his tennis career, Blake was ranked No. 4 in the world. Knee problems and other injuries affected his playing and he retired from tennis after a three-set loss at the 2013 US Open. The Harvard-educated player was known for his charity work throughout his career.

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