A new video released by the attorneys of Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri appears to show an Alameda County sheriff’s deputy initially shoved him twice in the moments after last year’s NBA championship.
The video was released with a countersuit Ujiri filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Oakland, Calif. It comes in the aftermath of a lawsuit filed by Alameda County sheriff’s deputy Alan Strickland following the altercation after the Raptors won the NBA title last June.
“I mean, listen, to me it’s pretty self-explanatory. And disappointing,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said before the Raptors faced the Brooklyn Nets in Game 2 of their NBA first-round playoff series on Wednesday in Florida.
“I think it probably ruins a night of tremendous celebration for Masai with the actions of the officer. I’m sure he still felt pretty good about the win and all that stuff, but it had to dampen that. I guess it’s been a long time. It’s been over a year. So, it’s good to kind of get maybe close to some closure on that.”
The video, released by the Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy firm, shows clear angles of the encounter between Strickland and Ujiri, including from Strickland’s own body camera.
In the video, Ujiri can be seen walking towards Strickland as he makes his way onto the court to celebrate.
Ujiri appears to be taking out his credentials when Strickland appears to shove Ujiri in the chest.
The two exchange words, only for Ujiri to be shoved again. He then pushes Strickland back. The footage ends shortly after that.
Ujiri’s legal team says the footage shows Strickland was “undeniably the initial aggressor.”
Warning: The video contains strong language
No criminal charges were ever filed against Ujiri, but Strickland sued Ujiri in February, claiming he suffered both mental and physical injuries in the incident. It also cited past and future medical care and expenses and names his wife as a plaintiff. The suit seeks US$75,000 in damages.
The countersuit adds Strickland is “perpetuating a fraud by falsely claiming he was injured,” and that Ujiri was “`subjected to unprovoked and unnecessary use of force.”
“Sadly, Mr. Strickland’s dishonest account of the encounter is a narrative that has become somewhat familiar: a law enforcement officer using their position engages in unjustified violence against a peaceful individual, then lies about the encounter by characterizing the victim as the aggressor,” the document says. “To be sure the great majority of law enforcement officers do not conduct themselves in this way. Mr. Strickland, however, has chosen dishonesty over integrity.”
Sgt. Ray Kelly, a spokesperson for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, tells 680 NEWS that the office stands by its previous comments and original statement that Ujiri was the aggressor despite new video evidence.
“There’s been a snippet of video released publicly that doesn’t tell the story of the entire investigation,” Kelly said. “That story will have to come out through the process. We stand by our original statements.”
Kelly confirmed that Strickland remains employed by the department and said the deputy is on leave recovering from injuries sustained during the incident.
“It speaks to what’s going on now,” Raptors swingman Norm Powell said after Wednesday’s game. “I’m glad there was a body cam to show what actually went down. I know there were a lot of different stories going on saying Masai was the aggressor in the situation.
“I’m glad we were able to get to the real bottom line and everyone can see what really happened. It’s exactly what we’re fighting for, for justice to be served for those cops who are taking the law a little bit into their own hands unnecessarily.”
Raptors guard Fred VanVleet called the video “heavy stuff.”
“Obviously we ride with Masai, and we all have his back and we had it from Day 1, but it’s just crazy to see how things work and it’s unfortunate, I think that’s why we all are in a situation now and fighting for social justice and equality,” VanVleet said. “Because you see how quick things can get ugly just by somebody’s word or one bad cop or a bunch of bad cops.
“The system is kind of crooked, it’s not designed for us so it’s tough, it’s emotional stuff and obviously we all have his back and I hope that things get resolved and we’re able to get justice for him.”
The Raptors said in a statement on Tuesday that the video released with the countersuit proves Ujiri wasn’t the aggressor in the dispute.
“We are mindful this remains before the courts, but we have always maintained that the claims made against Masai are baseless and entirely without merit. We believe this video evidence shows exactly that – Masai was not an aggressor, but instead was the recipient of two very violent, unwarranted actions,” the Raptors said in a team statement.
“The events of that evening cast a pall over what should have been a night of celebration, and the year since. While Masai has the full backing of Raptors and MLSE as he fights this injustice, we are aware that not all people have similar support and resources. This is a spurious legal action that MLSE, the NBA, and especially Masai should not be facing.”
Nurse said it’s an unfortunate situation.
“I think that in this particular case, not just this particular case, in many instances people make accusations, assumptions, throw the guilty thing at lots of people, and I think in the world, especially of social media and all this kind of stuff, there’s a lot of just flat-out unkind behaviour towards people when they don’t really know the truth,” he said. “I find it all very disheartening and disappointing, to be honest.”
Files from 680 NEWS and The Canadian Press were used in this report