Sefolosha: ‘I wanted the truth to come out’

Hawks player Thabo Sefolosha was acquitted on all charges Friday, after a weeklong trial stemming from an April incident outside a Manhattan nightclub.

Sefolosha wiped away tears of relief as he listened to the verdict, which the jury of three men and three women reached after less than an hour of deliberations. Prosecutors had charged Sefolosha with three misdemeanor counts, alleging that he disobeyed orders to move away from a crime scene and then resisted arrest.

Testimony and video introduced into evidence showed police officers treating Sefolosha roughly during the arrest, which left Sefolosha with a broken leg and caused him to miss the NBA playoffs. While it seems likely he will file civil charges against the police, Sefolosha said outside court he has not yet decided how to proceed.

Instead, he focused Friday on the satisfaction of clearing his name. Sefolosha could have accepted a deferred dismissal before the trial began, but chose to fight for a not-guilty verdict.

“I wanted the truth to come out, and justice to come out,” he said.

Now he wants to get back to playing basketball with the Hawks. Sefolosha hasn’t fully recovered from the injuries apparently suffered when a police officer kicked his right leg. He has been cleared for all basketball activities and has participated in training camp before leaving this week for the trial. He hopes to be ready when the Hawks’ season opens Oct. 27.

“I hope I still have a long career,” he said.

Jurors declined to comment as they left the court, but several of them shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with Sefolosha on the street outside the courthouse. Sefolosha thanked them in person and with his public comments.

“I want to assure them this was the right verdict,” he said. “They were on the side of truth and justice today. I’m happy this is over now.”

Sefolosha, a 31-year-old native of Switzerland who has played in the NBA for nine seasons, thanked his family, attorney Alex Spiro and the Hawks organization. He singled out coach Mike Budenholzer, who testified on his behalf Thursday.

“I’m thankful to the American justice system,” Sefolosha said. “Justice was made today.”

In a statement released Friday afternoon, Budenholzer said, “Thabo is a man of great character, and we are proud that he took a principled approach to proving his innocence. We are extremely happy for him and his family, and we are very pleased with today’s verdict in his favor.”

Sefolosha was arrested as he was leaving the nightclub 1OAK in the early-morning hours of April 8. He and then-teammate Pero Antic went to the club after the Hawks arrived in town following an April 7 game at Philips Arena against the Phoenix Suns.

Sefolosha and Antic were still inside the club when Indiana Pacers player Chris Copeland and two other people were stabbed on the street outside. Police said they asked everyone leaving the club to move quickly down 17th Street to Tenth Avenue, and they alleged that Sefolosha ignored orders to clear the area. Sefolosha and other witnesses presented by the defense accused Officer JohnPaul Giacona of targeting Sefolosha for verbal abuse, while police said Sefolosha called the 5-foot-7 Giacona a “midget.”

Sefolosha did get to Tenth Avenue, and was about to get into a waiting car when he stopped to hand a $20 bill to a panhandler. Officer Richard Caster grabbed Sefolosha, saying he believed Sefolosha was moving aggressively toward Officer Daniel Dongvort.

On cellphone videos introduced into evidence, Caster is shown pulling Sefolosha’s right arm, while Dongvort and other officers pulled his left arm. Officers pushed Sefolosha to the ground before handcuffing him and taking him away.

The Hawks had a game that night in Brooklyn, and Sefolosha had X-rays taken that day at Barclays Center. He didn’t play in that game, or in any games after that as the Hawks advanced to the Eastern Conference finals before losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers. His broken leg required season-ending surgery.