Police probe claim of improper force after mistaken arrest of ex-tennis pro James Blake

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NEW YORK — Internal affairs detectives are investigating claims by former tennis professional James Blake that he was thrown to the ground and then handcuffed while mistakenly being arrested Wednesday at a hotel, police said.

Blake, who’s biracial, told the Daily News he wasn’t sure if he was arrested because of his race but said the officer who put him in handcuffs inappropriately used force.

“To me it’s as simple as unnecessary police force, no matter what my race is,” he told the newspaper. “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.”

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A co-operating witness misidentified Blake to detectives investigating fraudulently purchased cellphones as one of two people he recognized as being involved with the scheme, New York Police Department spokesman Stephen Davis said.

“Once Blake was properly identified and found to have no connection to the investigation, he was released from police custody immediately,” Davis said in a statement. “In regards to the alleged improper use of force, the police commissioner directed the internal affairs bureau to investigate.”

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, speaking on the NY1 cable television news station, said Blake “has a right to be upset.” Bratton vowed to aggressively address Blake’s allegations.

“It’s very disturbing,” Bratton said. “The nature of what he described is not what we do. It’s not what we’re supposed to do.”

Officers arrested a suspect in the cellphone scam at the Grand Hyatt New York hotel in Manhattan during a controlled buy earlier Wednesday, police said. It was after that buy that a deliveryman with the cellphone company pointed out Blake and another man in the hotel lobby as having purchased cellphones the day before, officers said.

The second man, who Bratton said was standing next to Blake, was taken into custody. A hotel security guard, a former member of the NYPD, recognized Blake, prompting the arresting officers to confirm his identity.

Bratton said internal affairs detectives were sent to the hotel and have already identified several witnesses. He said investigators also are looking to obtain hotel surveillance video that may have captured the arrest.

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Blake’s last tournament as a professional was the 2013 U.S. Open, at which he lost in the first round of singles and doubles. He was ranked as high as No. 4 in the world and reached three Grand Slam quarterfinals, including at the U.S. Open in 2005 and 2006.

Blake, 35, was born in Yonkers and went to high school in Connecticut. He attended Harvard University before turning pro in 1999.

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AP Tennis Writer Howard Fendrich and reporter Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.

Jake Pearson, The Associated Press

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