Former tennis star James Blake outside the Grand Hyatt Hotel entrance where he was wrongly thrown to the ground and handcuffed by police officers looking for someone else.

He was a young African-American tennis star on the rise, born in Yonkers and raised in Fairfield County, and there was a time at the United States Open tennis tournament, sometimes on the stadium court named after Arthur Ashe, when James Blake made the crowd at Ashe Stadium go wild for him.

There was a time when they thought at the Open that Blake, who left Harvard early to chase his tennis dreams, would at least make it to the last weekend, which he never did, as close as he came.

But they did love him at the Open when he was younger, during this long, amazing dry spell in men’s tennis when no American man has won a major title since Andy Roddick won the Open back in 2003.

“You’d think they could say, ‘Hey, we want to talk to you,’” Blake said. “‘We are looking into something.’ I was just standing there. I wasn’t running. It’s not even close (to being OK). It’s blatantly unnecessary. You would think that at some point they would get the memo that this isn’t OK, but it’s seems there’s no stopping it.”

Blake played with flair and passion and speed, played to the people in the crowd like a showman, and he at least made the quarters of the Open twice. And was once ranked No. 4 in the world.

James Blake also won 10 tournaments and millions in prize money before retiring for good at the Open two years ago, after 14 years as a pro. Blake got married after that and became a father and on Wednesday afternoon, he was a young man, black, on the ground in front of the Grand Hyatt on 42nd St., right next to Grand Central, because some undercover cops mistook him for a criminal.

This is what can happen, even if you once were a tennis star in New York City at this time of year and could do a pretty good job of rocking the house at Arthur Ashe Stadium against stars such as Andre Agassi, once the cheering stops.

“It’s hard to believe this is still happening,” James Blake said to Wayne Coffey of the Daily News after Blake had been put on the ground and handcuffed before the cops who rushed him because they thought he was the bad guy in some scam about identity theft realized, much too late, that they had the wrong guy.

FOLLOW THE DAILY NEWS SPORTS ON FACEBOOK. “LIKE” US HERE
Former Tennis Star James Blake Mistook for Theft Suspect; Handcuffed Outside The Hyatt Regency Hotel.

So this is how it happens for James Blake, one of ours once at the Open, Harvard guy, gentleman of his sport for a long time, almost 10 years to the day from when he had his best and loudest moment at his country’s national championship, against Agassi in the quarterfinals of the ’05 Open, one of those loud, storied second-week matches that went past one in the morning.

Blake was 25 that year and Agassi was 35, trying to make the kind of run to the semis, at a slightly younger age, that Jimmy Connors had made 14 years earlier, at the age of 39. But Blake, running all the way to Roosevelt Ave. that night to run down shots, was trying to play himself into the semis of the Open, trying to write his own big tennis story, and take out one of the great American players of all time.

Once a huge star in tennis, Blake's wrongful handcuffing is a bad look for the NYPD. Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

Once a huge star in tennis, Blake’s wrongful handcuffing is a bad look for the NYPD.

He got ahead 6-3, 6-3. He looked young, Agassi looked old. But then Agassi got the third set at 6-3 and got the fourth set by the same score. People who were there that night will tell you how the noise kept getting bigger at Ashe, the way it can, the longer this match went. Finally Agassi won it, 7-6, in the fifth.

When it was over Blake said, “It couldn’t have been more fun to lose.”

Agassi said, “At 1:15 in the morning, for 20,000 people to still be here, I wasn’t the winner. Tennis was.”

Blake was a part of a moment in American tennis like that. He did as much to make the night as Agassi did. Now he flies in from San Diego on the red eye to attend the 2015 U.S. Open and gets made as a criminal and put on the sidewalk by overzealous cops, all white, on 42nd St. while he is waiting for a courtesy car.

“You’d think they could say, ‘Hey, we want to talk to you,’” Blake said. “‘We are looking into something.’ I was just standing there. I wasn’t running. It’s not even close (to being OK). It’s blatantly unnecessary. You would think that at some point they would get the memo that this isn’t OK, but it’s seems there’s no stopping it.”

This was about Blake being made by a couple of people who said he had been involved in an identity-theft ring operating in the area around the Hyatt and Grand Central for the past week. Before long he was in handcuffs. As it was all happening, according to Blake, he told the cops rousting him to look at his driver’s license, and a credential for the Open that he had in one of his pockets.

Blake said later that one of the cops involved had apologized when he realized they had the wrong guy. The cop who put Blake on the ground — again according to James Blake — never said a word to him. It had apparently been easier putting Blake on the ground like that than forming a simple declarative sentence about being stupid. This wasn’t a member of the NYPD stopping someone for suspicious activity, unless a young black guy waiting for a courtesy car at an official U.S. Open hotel now qualifies as justification for excessive force, here or anywhere in America in the summer of 2015.

James Blake, who is used to the cheers of New York fans at the U.S. Open, is not feeling so safe after being wrongly handcuffed by NYPD cops on Wednesday. SHANNON STAPLETON/REUTERS

James Blake, who is used to the cheers of New York fans at the U.S. Open, is not feeling so safe after being wrongly handcuffed by NYPD cops on Wednesday.

Blake’s version of things is that once he was down on the sidewalk the first cop to get to him told him to roll over and not say a word. Blake said he told the cop, “I’m going to do whatever you say.”

The cop told James Blake he was in safe hands. Sure he was. Blake liked New York City better when he had a tennis racket in his hands.

The NYPD owes him an apology. So does the mayor. In what we’re told is such a safe summer in the city, James Blake wasn’t.

“It was definitely scary and definitely crazy,” Blake told the Daily News. “In my mind there’s probably a race factor involved, but no matter what there’s no reason for anybody to do that to anybody.”

LUPICA: JAMES BLAKE DESERVES AN APOLOGY FROM NYPD, MAYOR

Blake, on his way to make a corporate appearance for Time Warner Cable at the U.S. Open, said none of the white cops identified themselves, including the officer who charged straight at him and bounced him off the E. 42nd St. concrete around noon.

“Don’t say a word,” snapped the officer, who Blake said was not wearing a badge.


As for the cop that body slammed Blake onto the concrete…

In April 2013, Warren Diggs and his girlfriend filed complaints against several NYPD officers with the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) — the independent city agency that investigates allegations of officer misconduct.  Cops stopped Diggs months earlier for riding his bike on the sidewalk, wrestled him to the ground in his own driveway and arrested him for marijuana possession and resisting arrest. They arrested his girlfriend, Nafeesah Hines after she had one of her kids take the bike he was riding inside.The arresting officer alleged she had committed a felony by tampering with evidence.All criminal charges were ultimately dismissed and the couple’s complaints alleged the officers used excessive force, abused their authority and that one even made false statements to the court.Lorraine Frascatore and James FrascatoreCivilian Complaint Review Board investigations are conducted in secret, because state law makes police disciplinary records confidential. But WNYC obtained the full investigative file along with interview recordings from records in an unrelated court case. It’s an unprecedented window into the agency, which has been thrust into the spotlight in the wake of the death of Eric Garner on Staten Island and questions about police officer accountability.

The CCRB agency gets about 5,000 civilian complaints every year. The complaints are assigned to investigators — largely young, recent college-graduates with no investigative experience whatsover.

Online resumes show the ranks include a Hobby Lobby cashier, an EMT and a postal clerk. They get three weeks of training and then start handling cases under the supervision of more experienced investigators and attorneys.

Clearly, there is no criteria necessary to participate on this board. Yet a board panel, no matter how uneducated or inexperienced its members ultimately determines if there’s enough evidence to substantiate an allegation.

The CCRB found enough evidence to substantiate at least one misconduct allegation in 14 percent of the cases it fully investigated last year.

Anyone can make a complaint, and there’s no penalty for filing a false one. Some gangs have been known to target officers they don’t like with multiple complaints. Other complaints are simply frivolous.

It can also be hard to substantiate a case when the evidence comes down to a cop’s word against a civilian’s.

Richard Emery became chairman of the CCRB earlier this year. He said the agency has too often “acquiesced” to police misconduct. He says he’s reforming the agency by bringing in attorneys earlier, speeding up cases, doing more with the agency’s trove of data and trying to make decisions more consistent.

Diggs and Hines’ complaints might have quietly gone away – if not for the fact Hines did what so many people do these days. She used her cellphone to record audio of her encounter with the cops.

Excerpt of Audio Evidence

Using that tape and hours of interviews, the CCRB investigators exposed numerous inconsistencies, largely involving the testimony of the arresting officer, James Frascatore.

The file shows it was the fifth complaint filed against Frascatore in seven months. That’s more complaints than 90 percent of active officers have received in their entire careers.

The audio recording backs up her allegation that Frascatore never gave his name and shield number when she asked.

In the sworn criminal complaint, Frascatore alleged that he asked her for the bike and she responded, “F— you. I’m taking the bike inside.” Frascatore told the CCRB investigator about a dramatic tug-of-war over the bike.

None of that is supported by Hines’ recording.

WNYC found it’s not the first time Frascatore’s credibility has been called into question. In 2012, he pulled over Leroy Cline for allegedly driving with a busted taillight. Frascatore asked for Cline’s ID.

“I rolled my window down,” Cline said in an interview with WNYC. “He said, ‘License and registration.’ I said ‘Officer, what am I being pulled over for?’ He completely ignored me and said ‘License, registration.’ I said, ‘Officer what am I being pulled over for?’”

Cline is accused of attacking the 6-foot-three, 220-pound officer and biting Frascatore’s fist. Cline, of course, has a different story.

“That’s when he opened my car door and gave me three straight shots to my mouth,” he said.

Cline’s criminal case is still pending. He filed a claim with the city — a precursor to a lawsuit.

The Queens County District Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.

Frascatore did not return a message left at his stationhouse. His attorney declined to comment because, he says, the matter with the CCRB is still pending.

The CCRB ultimately substantiated the allegation that Frascatore abused his authority by not giving his name and shield, and recommended the NYPD give him a refresher on the rules. The agency referred the issue of the false statements to the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau.

It’s unclear what if any discipline has resulted from the case. The NYPD did not respond to multiple interview requests. The department refused to provide even basic information such as Frascatore’s current rank and assignment.

 

Facebook Comments
  • Dena Stewart

    This particular cop was obviously on a testosterone or synthetic high and hot-wired when he thought he had the “guy”. This is happening too often to chalk it up. The way things are going, civility has gone by the wayside and the world is going to hell in a hand basket … on so many levels, in so many ways, in so many places that there is no turning back. Then again, was “back” really any better?