Toronto Raptors president to countersue deputy for fraud and 'excessive force'
OAKLAND, Calif. - Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri filed legal documents this week showing he is poised to countersue an Alameda County sheriff's deputy with whom he got into a shoving match last summer, saying the deputy "perpetrated a fraud" when he falsely claimed he was injured.
"There is...no objective evidence to support Mr. Strickland’s alleged injuries," wrote Ujiri's lawyers from the firm Cotchett Pitre & Mccarthy in Burlingame, Calif. "And video evidence, including footage from Mr. Strickland’s body camera, shows Mr. Strickland subjected Mr. Ujiri to an unprovoked and unnecessary use of excessive force."
The 108-page proposed counterclaim, filed in U.S. District Court of Northern California on Tuesday evening, sets up a legal path for Ujiri to turn the tables and sue Deputy Alan Strickland.
New video: Sheriff’s deputy the 'undeniably initial aggressor' in Toronto Raptors shoving match
WATCH: The Raptors-deputy shoving encounter
Video was released showing a deputy shoving Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri on June 13, 2019.
In February, Strickland sued Ujiri, the Raptors, the NBA and Maple Leaf Entertainment.
The deputy alleged that Ujiri shoved him so hard that he suffered physical injuries to his head, jaw, chin and teeth. Strickland also claimed Ujiri had a “violent predisposition” and acted with an “evil motive amounting to malice,” and that the Raptors president “circumvented” the security checkpoint and then tried to “storm” the court and “hit him in the face and chest with both fists.”
Strickland has not been back to work since.
Alan Strickland uses a power saw in his garage. He filed a federal lawsuit against the Toronto Raptors saying he was assaulted and can't return to work. February 2020
And as of July, he has been paid roughly $143,000 in worker's compensation benefits, which Alameda County wants to be repaid if he wins his suit against the Raptors, court documents show.
KTVU visited Strickland the month he filed suit and saw him carrying boxes, using power tools and going out to lunch with his wife.
In 1994, Strickland was arrested on insurance fraud and false statement charges, and pleaded no contest to the first crime in 2005, KTVU first reported in March. Because it was downgraded to a misdemeanor, Strickland was able to maintain becoming a law enforcement officer.
Strickland has repeatedly declined comment, as has his attorney, David Mastagni.
Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly said in a statement: "A snippet of video was released by attorneys. It does not depict the entire incident in detail. There are different angles and high definition images that tell the complete story. There seems to be a rush to judgment before all the facts are in. This matter needs to be resolved before the court with facts and evidence. Not in the media."
Ujiri said none of the things Strickland said about him are true.
In fact, newly released video, first reported by KTVU, shows Strickland was the initial aggressor.
The entire shoving match lasted 11 seconds.
Ujiri was headed to congratulate his team after the Raptors beat the Warriors 114-100.
The video from Strickland's body camera video shows that Ujiri had his all-access-badge halfway out of his breast suit pocket; the lanyard was clearly visible.
According to an incident report obtained by KTVU through a California Public Records Request, Strickland told his superiors he was under extreme pressure to conduct bomb sweeps and security checks; he had no idea who Ujiri was; and he was told to look for yellow badge credentials, which Ujiri was not seen wearing.
Video from another angle shows Strickland shoving Ujiri and telling him to "back the f--- up," as he wanted to make sure the Raptors president had the right credentials to step on the court. Strickland then shoves the president a second time.
Ujiri ultimately shoves back, open hands, on the deputy's chest.
And that was it.
There is no visual evidence that Ujiri punched Strickland in the face or perpetrated any serious physical injury, as the deputy alleged. In Strickland's written version, he said Ujiri was aggressive with him and struck him with "closed fists in a straight-armed manner."
However, the video shows that Strickland never fell down. He did go to the hospital later, claiming he had facial swelling. A picture from the hospital does not show that.
Alan Strickland says he had facial swelling after he was shoved by Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri. This is his photo from the hospital.
"In fact, Mr. Strickland’s version of the 11-second encounter he had with Mr. Ujiri after Game 6 is, in all material respects, a complete fabrication," according to Ujiri's proposed countersuit. "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."
This shoving match, which grabbed international headlines, is also about race.
"Mr. Strickland has not only falsified facts relating to nearly every aspect of the encounter," his lawyers wrote. "He has also falsely alleged that Mr. Ujiri has a stereotypical 'predisposition and propensity for physical violence.' ”
Doug Smith, the Raptors beat reporter wrote a piece in the Toronto Star highlighting the fact that Ujiri got treated the way he did because he is Black.
And Adante Pointer, a civil rights attorney in Oakland, who represents many Black men who have been killed by police, agreed: "This would have never happened if Ujiri was a white man in a suit."
Winning the NBA championship against the Golden State Warriors was a dream come true for Ujiri, who worked as a youth basketball coach in Nigeria and as an unpaid scout for the NBA’s Orlando Magic, his lawyers wrote.
He rose up the ranks, becoming president of the Raptors in 2013.
And still, Ujiri spends his summers going to Africa, holding basketball camps for young people.
So, when the final buzzer rang, "Ujiri was filled with excitement and pride for himself and his team," his lawyers wrote. "He was happy for his family as well. He thought of the young people in Africa and other people of color, and how this extraordinary accomplishment would inspire them to believe they could achieve great things despite the many obstacles they faced."
Ujiri's supporters were thrilled, saying the release of the video exonerated the basketball executive.
That feeling extended throughout Canada.
Toronto's mayor told reporters on he was thankful the play-by-play of the shoves was finally made public.
"That's not possible," Mayor John Tory said on Wednesday. "That's not who he is. He's not capable of that behavior...He was dealt a very unfair hand.
Witness Ben Baller took a photo of the aftermath between Masai Ujiri and the deputy. June 13, 2019
Three other witnesses testified they never saw Ujiri punch the deputy in the face.
There was at least one witness, however, who told Oakland police investigators he saw otherwise.
But as the countersuit points out, that witness was a Los Angeles police officer, Sucha Singh, who was standing in the north tunnel, when the shoving occurred in the south.
Singh told investigators he said Ujiri push Strickland “in the chest area with two clenched fists.”
But Ujiri's lawyers also dug around and found out that Singh has a history of engaging in excessive force and “unconscionable acts.”
Singh was previously accused of beating a civilian with his baton and then providing misleading statements when later questioned about it, court documents show.
Ujiri is not asking for any money for his countersuit.
He also doesn't hold a grudge against all law enforcement officers; his legal documents note that believes the majority of police "do not conduct themselves in this way."
However, Ujiri's countersuit does want to set the record straight.
"Mr. Strickland...has chosen dishonesty over integrity," the counterclaim states. "Motivated by greed (and perhaps revenge), Mr. Strickland ... used unnecessary violence and profanity to escalate what should have been a peaceful encounter."
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Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at email@example.com or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez