Hawks' Thabo Sefolosha found not guilty in NYC arrest case

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Friday, October 9, 2015

NEW YORK -- Atlanta Hawksplayer Thabo Sefolosha was acquitted Friday in a case stemming from a police fracas outside a trendy New York City nightclub.

A Manhattan jury deliberated for about an hour and found Sefolosha not guilty of misdemeanor obstructing government administration, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

"They were on the side of truth and justice today. ... I'm just happy all this is over now and I can put this behind me, knowing my name has been cleared," the 31-year-old Sefolosha told reporters.

The guard-forward, who suffered a fractured right leg in the April 8 struggle with police, was accused of repeatedly disobeying the orders of officers telling him to leave the area around the club where another NBA player, Chris Copeland, had been stabbed.

Sefolosha testified that he moved off the block at the behest of a vulgar and confrontational officer and was trying to give a beggar a $20 bill when he was grabbed by officers and taken to the ground.

"They arrested him," Sefolosha's attorney, Alex Spiro, said in his closing argument. "They broke his leg out of eyeshot or earshot of an unrelated crime scene."

Sefolosha wiped his eyes with a tissue after the verdict was announced. He looked over at the jury and mouthed "Thank you" several times.

When asked by reporters Friday whether he would be suing the city now, Sefolosha said: "I haven't made a decision on that."

Before the confrontation turned physical, the 6-foot-6 Sefolosha said he challenged the tone of a particularly aggressive officer who was ushering him, former teammate Pero Antic and others away. He said he called the 5-7 officer "a midget." Charges against Antic later were dropped.

But prosecutors presented a different theory, arguing that Sefolosha, a Swiss citizen, acted entitled as he slowly departed the 1Oak nightclub. They said he eventually locked his arms in front of him to make it more difficult for arresting officers to put on handcuffs.

"The police don't get to tell the defendant how to play basketball," an assistant district attorney, Francesca Bartolomey, said in her summation. "The defendant doesn't get to say where the crime scene ends."

Prosecutors had offered Sefolosha a plea deal that would have seen the charges dismissed in exchange for doing one day of community service. But he rejected the offer, saying he wanted to set the record straight.

The decision to testify at trial "wasn't difficult at all," he said. "All I had to do was tell the truth."

The case is the second one involving high-profile athletes accusing New York Police Department officers of wrongdoing this year. On Wednesday, the city agency charged with investigating police misconduct substantiated claims by former tennis pro James Blake that an officer used excessive force in taking him to the ground and wrongly arresting him last month after mistaking him for a fraud suspect.

Spiro, the defense lawyer, has suggested that Sefolosha, who is black, was targeted because of his race. He pointed to surveillance video showing the white officer passing Antic, who also is white, and others as he demanded that Sefolosha move up the block.

The Hawks reacted to the verdict at shootaround before the team's preseason game against the Pelicans.

"Thabo is such a great person, we feel great about supporting him. We're very happy for him and his family that the decision went in his favor today," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "Now he can focus on basketball and get back to doing what he enjoys and loves."

Teammate Al Horford expressed relief at being able to put the incident behind them.

"It's big and there's peace of mind, not only for not only us as a team but mainly for Thabo and his family," he said. "We're just glad that everything is behind us and we can focus on the season."

Budenholzer told ESPN's Michael Wallace that Sefolosha, who required surgery on his leg, has been cleared to participate in 5-on-5 scrimmage work.Sefolosha practiced with the Hawks during training camp last week at the University of Georgia before returning to New York for the case proceedings. Sefolosha was monitored by Hawks staff and didn't compete in every single drill, but is expected to be available for practice when he returns to the team this weekend.

"I've started running and playing a little bit more; it's starting to feel better, but I don't know exactly," Sefolosha said Friday when asked about the long-term prognosis for his injury. "I hope I still have a long career ahead of me."

Budenholzer said Sefolosha will meet the team back in Atlanta, where the Hawks are scheduled to practice Saturday. Sefolosha also is expected to be available to play in Wednesday's preseason home game against San Antonio.Sources close to Sefolosha have told ESPN that his return to the court isn't a guarantee. Those sources say he could miss the start of the season and possibly well beyond that.

"In some way we felt like this was maybe a positive. He's worked really hard for four, five, six days coming off an injury. And this gave him almost [a] built-in break. Now he'll come back and work hard again," Budenholzer said. "He'll pick up quickly."

Information from ESPN's Michael Wallace and Scott Eden andThe Associated Press was used in this report.

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