Legal Aid Client Has Force Complaint Against Officer Who Arrested Tennis Star James Blake
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2015

Leroy Cline, a Queens resident was a college student in 2012 when he was pulled over by Officer James Frascatore over a broken taillight and punched three times in the mouth.

Cline recalled the ordeal to the New York Times and CNN in light of Franscatore's manhandling arrest of tennis star James Blake. A memorandum Kenneth Finkelman, Staff Attorney in the Queens office of the Criminal Practice, sent to the Queens District Attorney's office outlined the incident. Frascatore ignored Cline's questions and pulled him out of the car. Cline was charged with assaulting a police office. Franscatore later said Cline bit him. The memo quotes from medical records, reviewed by an expert witness, showing the officer’s cut on his hand was consistent with him punching Cline in the mouth. The assault charges were dropped in exchange for Cline pleading guilty to a traffic infraction, Finkelman said. CNN Sports also carried an interview with Cline who has filed a lawsuit.

Cynthia Conti-Cook, a Staff Attorney with Legal Aid's Special Litigation Unit, has argued for casting a wider net so that all complaints, verified or not, can be counted. Noting that some police abuse victims may not cooperate with city investigators, Conti-Cook said a broader view of the pattern of complaints against an officer could better help identity dangerous officers. Conti-Cook created the database for the Criminal Practice's Cop Accountability Project.




The New York Times
Officer Who Arrested James Blake Has History of Force Complaints
By Benjamin Mueller and Nate Schweber
Sept. 11, 2015

In 2012, a Queens man said, Officer James Frascatore pulled him over for a broken taillight, opened his car door and punched him three times in the mouth, unprovoked.

The following year, another Queens resident claimed, Officer Frascatore punched him in the stomach several times outside a bodega and called him a racial epithet.

Those accounts, both made by black men, came to light after a rough arrest by the same officer on Wednesday in which he wrapped an arm around the neck of the retired tennis star James Blake and threw him to the sidewalk after mistaking him for a suspect in a credit card fraud investigation.

The New York Police Department released surveillance video of the arrest on Friday, offering a minute-long glimpse of the manhandling of a biracial sports star by a white plainclothes officer that compelled officials to swiftly strip the officer of his gun and badge.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said he called the tennis star James Blake on Thursday to apologize for his brief arrest in Manhattan.

Mr. Blake, 35, was leaning against a mirrored beam outside a hotel in Midtown Manhattan, his hands clasped as he waited to be taken to a corporate appearance at the United States Open. Officer Frascatore, 38, rushed into the video’s frame, twisting Mr. Blake’s left arm, grabbing the back of his neck and pulling him face down onto the sidewalk.

Police Officer James Frascatore has been stripped of his gun and badge after the mistaken arrest of James Blake.

He finished by digging his knee into Mr. Blake’s back and handcuffing him, never easing up even though the athlete barely flinched as he let himself be tackled.

“I am determined to use my voice to turn this unfortunate incident into a catalyst for change in the relationship between the police and the public they serve,” Mr. Blake said in a statement on Friday, calling for the city to make “a significant financial commitment.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William J. Bratton, in a joint statement, noted the city’s $29 million investment in retraining police officers and pledged “to vigorously implement these reforms that build trust and respect between police officers and the people they serve.” They said they were prepared to meet with Mr. Blake.

Officer Frascatore’s history of excessive force complaints, including at least three filed against him with the Civilian Complaint Review Board in 2013, revealed a pattern of residents claiming they were detained without explanation and mistreated despite complying. It also led some lawyers and residents to criticize the Police Department for not punishing him before he was involved in another rough arrest.

“I don’t know what that dude’s problem is but I’m glad it finally came to somebody who someone would listen to,” said Warren Diggs, who sued Officer Frascatore, claiming that the officer had beaten him in his driveway in 2013.

The officer’s actions involving Mr. Diggs and the pattern of complaints filed by Mr. Diggs and other civilians against him were the subject of a report by WNYC last December.

Officer Frascatore and two other police officers followed Mr. Diggs as he rode his bike home from a bodega at night, and then stopped him in his driveway and asked for identification, Mr. Diggs said on Friday.

When he began walking into his home to get it, an officer grabbed him from behind while Officer Frascatore punched him in his right temple, Mr. Diggs said. He collapsed, and then Officer Frascatore threw himself down on his legs and continued to pummel him.

“I’m getting hit all on my side and my back,” said Mr. Diggs, 39, a handyman. “I’m screaming for my wife to come outside then I just start screaming, ‘Help!’”

Another officer sprayed Mace into his face. The officer who grabbed him hooked a forearm around his neck and began to choke him, he said. “I’m saying: ‘I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!’ ” Mr. Diggs recalled.

Mr. Diggs was charged with marijuana possession and resisting arrest, he said. His wife was charged with tampering with evidence when she took his bicycle inside the house. He said their daughter, then 12, and son, then 9, wept hysterically. Charges were eventually dismissed.

Efforts by phone and in person on Friday to reach Officer Frascatore, who worked as a police officer in Florida before joining the New York police force four years ago, were not successful. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association said his arrest of Mr. Blake “was made under fluid circumstances where the subject might have fled.”

Leroy Cline, a Queens resident, claimed that Officer Frascatore punched him in the face after the officer stopped him for a broken taillight, ignored his questions and tried to pull him out of his car in 2012, according to a memorandum his lawyer sent to the Queens district attorney’s office.

Mr. Cline was charged with assaulting a police officer. Officer Frascatore later said Mr. Cline bit him.

The memo quotes from medical records, reviewed by an expert witness, showing the officer’s cut on his hand was consistent with him punching Mr. Cline in the mouth. The assault charges were dropped in exchange for Mr. Cline pleading guilty to a traffic infraction, his lawyer, Kenneth Finkelman of the Legal Aid Society, said.

In another case the next year, Stefon Luckey said he was followed into a bodega by officers who arrested him and used pepper spray on him, according to a lawsuit. Then Mr. Luckey was handed to Officer Frascatore, who punched him and called him an epithet, his lawyer, Philip M. Hines, said. Mr. Luckey was released without being charged, his lawsuit said.

The city’s lawyers said in court papers that the officers used “proper and lawful discretion.”

Again and again, residents said they were roughed up by Officer Frascatore with no explanation.

Almitra Gasper, 40, said she was walking home on a Saturday evening in 2013 carrying a wine cooler in a paper bag, when Officer Frascatore and his partner pulled up and asked her what she was doing. When she asked why she was being questioned, Officer Frascatore jumped out of the car, manhandled her and put her in handcuffs, she said. She was charged with resisting arrest, but that charge was dropped, Ms. Gasper said.

“He was really rough, really aggressive; it was akin to a kidnapping,” Ms. Gasper said. “And it wasn’t really clear why I was being arrested."