NEW YORK, N.Y. - A white police officer singled out a black professional basketball player as he filed out of a trendy nightclub this year, sparking a confrontation that resulted in the player's arrest and a season-ending leg fracture, a defence lawyer told jurors Tuesday.
"I don't know what he saw," attorney Alex Spiro said of the officer, JohnPaul Giacona, who first told the Atlanta Hawks' Thabo Sefolosha to clear the area early on April 8. "I think he saw a black man in a hoodie."
Sefolosha, 30, has been charged with misdemeanour obstructing government administration, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. He pleaded not guilty and refused a plea deal.
But a prosecutor said Tuesday that the 6-foot-6-inch Sefolosha acted entitled and disdainful to officers trying to clear hundreds of people off a street following an earlier stabbing outside the club by calling the 5-foot-7-inch Giacona "a midget."
"The defendant does not think he needs to obey the law," assistant district attorney Jesse Matthews said. "He does not like being told what to do."
Giacona had just completed three years on the job.
The case stems from a struggle outside the 1Oak nightclub in Chelsea after Indiana Pacers forward Chris Copeland and two women were stabbed.
Officers from a cabaret unit charged with patrolling area bars and clubs responded to that stabbing and were ordered to move hundreds of partygoers off the block, a police sergeant testified Tuesday. It was in that process that Sefolosha, his teammate Pero Antic and two women were told by Giacona to leave the block.
Charges against Antic have since been dropped.
Sefolosha disobeyed those orders, then charged at an officer whose back was turned before he was stopped by officers and eventually taken to the ground and arrested, court documents show.
But pressed by Spiro during cross-examination, Giacona acknowledged that although he had previously said he asked Sefolosha to move off the block six times he could only remember doing so at least three times. He also said he didn't know how the Swiss national's leg was injured or hear the sound of batons being deployed.
Spiro played video surveillance footage for jurors showing that there were patrons closer to the crime scene tape than Sefolosha and his friends were.
Six police officers will be called as witnesses for the prosecution, but the judge, Robert Mandelbaum, has denied a defence motion to view their personnel files.
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said the court case was on his mind Tuesday.
"I think we all care about Thabo," he said. "I'm hoping for the best. To be put in a little of a tough spot, going through this, is not easy for him or his family. ... But I just want the best outcome for him. He's such a good person."
Associated Press writer Paul Newberry in Atlanta contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show the judge's surname is Mandelbaum, not Mandelbau.