A professional basketball player testified Wednesday that he was trying to give money to a beggar after a testy verbal exchange with a police officer when he was kicked in the leg and taken to the ground by the police.
The Atlanta Hawks’ Thabo Sefolosha, whose right leg was fractured in the struggle, said he had been following police orders to clear the area after the stabbing of another NBA player outside a New York City nightclub but was singled out by a particularly confrontational and vulgar officer.
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"I said: `If you saw me in a different place, you wouldn’t say that. You’re a midget,’" the 6-foot-6-inch guard-forward said of the officer, JohnPaul Giacona, who is 5 feet 7 inches tall.
Shortly thereafter, cellphone video shows multiple officers, including at least one with a baton in hand, surrounding Sefolosha and taking him to the ground before placing him in handcuffs and hauling him away.
Sefolosha, 31, is charged with misdemeanor obstructing government administration, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after prosecutors said the Swiss national, his then-teammate Pero Antic and two other women repeatedly ignored orders to move away from the crime scene and off the block. He also was seen lunging at one of the officers before he was intercepted and arrested, according to court papers.
He has pleaded not guilty and declined at least two plea offers.
Antic, a former Hawks power forward, testified Wednesday that he was sitting in an Uber car with the door open in the early hours of April 8 when he heard officers arguing with Sefolosha as he tried to give a beggar, Amos Canty, money.
Antic also was arrested after touching an officer’s shoulder while asking why his friend was being placed under arrest, but the charges against him have since been dropped.
Canty testified that he never received the handout from Sefolosha and described the officers’ takedown as "rough."
Sefolosha’s attorney, Alex Spiro, has said his client was targeted because he is black. He has argued that surveillance video shows that Antic, who is Macedonian, was closer to the crime scene when Giacona first told Sefolosha to move off the block.
Sefolosha said he was in New York celebrating after a win that would send the Hawks to the NBA playoffs. But the injury, which required surgery to repair, kept him from competing.
Six police officers testified for the prosecution. They will have an opportunity to cross-examine Sefolosha on Thursday.