Thabo Sefolosha was offered a deal last month. A great deal. The Hawks’ forward could have accepted minimal culpability for the skirmish with police that resulted in him suffering a broken leg last April and missing the NBA playoffs by serving just one day of community service. In exchange, all obstruction of justice, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct charges would be dropped.
To the surprise of many, he turned down the offer because he wanted to hear the words, “Not guilty.”
Sefolosha got his wish Friday. A jury in New York acquitted him of all charges. He then told AJC correspondent Danny Knobler, “I want to assure (the jury) this was the right verdict. They were on the side of truth and justice.”
The only question now is whether Sefolosha seeks a max contract — from the city of New York. He would have a strong case if he filed a civil suit but said he has not yet decided whether to do so. He said during the trial he is still not fully recovered from the injury.
These are uneasy times for law enforcement officials. I fully support police and understand they have extremely difficult job. But it was clear from the outset New York police overreacted in the Sefolosha case, causing his injuries that forced him to miss the Hawks playoffs. The police — and the police alone — were responsible for this mess.
Prosecutors obviously agreed. If they believed Sefolosha and teammate Pero Antic were at fault for a skirmish outside of a New York nightclub, they would not have dropped all charges against Antic and offered Sefolosha a sweetheart deal that effectively would allow him to walk with nothing on his record.
In fact, by the time the trial started, prosecutors had softened their deal even more: They offered a deferred dismissal without the mandate to serve any community service. The deal also would not have precluded Sefolosha from filing a civil suit. Prosecutors clearly just wanted this case to go away. But they probably balked at walking away from charges because of appearances that they were abandoning the police, especially against the backdrop of of so many cases of alleged police abuse around the county.
Sefolosha did not want to leave anybody with the impression that he was somehow responsible. He deserved that.
According to Knobler, when the case went to the jury Thursday, Selfolosha attorney Alex Spiro said in his summation, “You know what the public disturbance is? It’s when they’re smashing [Sefolosha] to the ground.”
It’s too late to save Sefolosha’s season, but at least he heard the words he wanted: Not guilty.
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