A jury began deliberating in the criminal case against NBA player Thabo Sefolosha on Thursday, six months after he was arrested outside a trendy nightclub following a confrontation with police.
The Atlanta Hawks guard-forward, who suffered a fractured right leg in the April 8 struggle with police, has pleaded not guilty to charges he repeatedly disobeyed the orders of the officers telling him to leave the area around the club where another NBA player, Chris Copeland, had been stabbed. He also has denied lunging threateningly at an officer before resisting arrest.
He has testified 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 eye shot or ear shot of an unrelated crime scene."
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 along, calling the 5-foot-7 officer "a midget." Charges against Antic later were dropped.
But prosecutors presented a different theory of the case, arguing Sefolosha, a Swiss citizen, acted entitled as he slowly departed the club as he was ordered to move, eventually locking 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 on Thursday also called back two officers who said they didn't see defense witness Amos Canty, the panhandler, near where Sefolosha was arrested, a contradiction of Canty's earlier testimony.
And the Manhattan Criminal Court judge instructed jurors they could infer that one or more police officers' statements to police officials weren't consistent with their testimony after internal police documents surfaced indicating Antic was far more aggressive than cellphone video showed him to be.
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 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 Sefolosha to move up the block.
Sefolosha had surgery on his leg and isn't fully healed. He said he continues to undergo rehab and isn't sure he'll be ready to play when the NBA season starts Oct. 27.