NEW YORK — New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton said he apologized Thursday to former tennis star James Blake, who was mistakenly tackled and handcuffed by police in a sting operation that went awry outside a Manhattan hotel Wednesday.
“I spoke to Mr. Blake a short time ago and personally apologized for yesterday’s incident,” Bratton said in a statement. “Mr. Blake indicated he would be willing to meet with the Internal Affairs Bureau as our investigation continues.”
Blake also plans to talk with Mayor Bill de Blasio, who also wants to apologize, Bratton said.
Blake was standing in front of the Grand Hyatt Hotel at midday Wednesday when he was tackled by a plainclothes police officer, Bratton said. Blake was waiting for a car to pick him up and take him to the U.S. Open tennis tournament, where he’s doing corporate appearances, the New York Daily News said.
Blake, 35, spent five or 10 minutes with his hands cuffed behind his back before police realized they had the wrong guy and let him go, Bratton said at a news conference Thursday morning.
Bratton said the incident “should not have happened” but insisted Blake wasn’t detained because of race.
“I don’t believe that race was a factor,” Bratton said. “This rush to put a race tag on it, I’m sorry, that’s not involved in this at all.”
Blake is biracial. Several officers made the arrest outside the Grand Hyatt Hotel and one of them, a white undercover officer, has been placed on desk duty.
Blake, once ranked No. 4 in the world, told the Daily News that “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. … I was just standing there. I wasn’t running. It’s not even close (to being OK). It’s blatantly unnecessary.”
Detectives from the Identity Theft Task Force had gone to the hotel at midday Wednesday to arrest people purchasing high-end shoes with fraudulent credit cards, NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said.
Officers set up the sting after a company that delivered goods on demand notified police that a group of people had purchased $18,000 in items using fraudulent credit cards, Boyce said.
Two Britons arrested at hotel
At the hotel, a courier delivered the goods to one man and police arrested him, Boyce said, identifying the suspect as a white male from England visiting the United States on a student visa.
“That courier then told the owner of the service provider that the individual standing 8 feet away, Mr. James Blake, was the other perpetrator” in the earlier incident, Boyce said.
Officers also identified Blake as a suspect from a photo given to police by the company supplying the goods, Boyce said.
The company got the photo off Instagram based on the name of a person they’d done business with, Boyce said.
“If you look at the photo … it’s a reasonable likeness to Mr. Blake,” Boyce said. “They look like twins.”
But the Instagram photo can’t be shown to the press, he said, because it turned out to be the image of an innocent person, not anybody involved in the fraud case.
Blake was let go shortly after a retired New York police officer informed detectives that he was a tennis player.
Police went inside the hotel and arrested a second suspect, also a Briton, Boyce said.
Those two Britons were charged with identity theft and credit card fraud.
Bratton has ordered an internal investigation. He wants to know how the mistake was made, if excessive force was used and why detention protocols were not followed.
He said the officers didn’t report the incident to their superiors, and he didn’t know about it until some of Blake’s comments hit the media.
Did police use too much force?
“Was the force used inappropriate? The initial review is we believe it may not have been,” he said.
Bratton said he’s heard reports one of the officers did not display a badge. That may have been because he was undercover, Bratton said.
Blake, 35, a former Olympian, told “Good Morning America” that he initially thought a friend was running toward him to try to surprise him with a bear hug.
Instead, “he picked me up and body-slammed me and put me on the ground and told me to turn over and shut my mouth, and put the cuffs on me,” Blake told ABC.
He said he cooperated and tried to explain who he was and provide his identification but that his explanations were ignored.
“I’m shaken up,” Blake said Thursday on “Good Morning America.” “A couple bumps and bruises, but all right.”
Blake also can take solace in the support he’s received around the tennis world.
One of the women’s game’s all-time greats, Martina Navratilova, took to Twitter to call the situation “unacceptable” and “just outrageous.”
And the sport’s governing body stateside, the U.S. Tennis Association, said in a statement Thursday that it is “deeply concerned about this troubling incident.”
“James is the embodiment of a model citizen whose triumphs on and off the court continue to inspire tennis fans and nonfans alike,” the USTA said. “We will continue to offer our support to James in any way we can as this investigation unfolds.”
Richard Wiliams, father of Serena and Venus Williams, told CNN on Thursday that he wasn’t surprised by the Blake incident.
“We’ve had so many things happen to people of my kind and my color it’s not surprising, not at all,” Williams told CNN sports reporter Don Riddell.
When asked whether Williams thought the nation had changed, he said, “I think it hasn’t changed that much at all, matter of fact it may have gotten worse, I don’t know … but I don’t think it’s changed that much.”