The Toronto Raptors are standing behind team president Masai Ujiri, who was sued in February by Alameda County Sheriff's Office deputy Alan Strickland, in a claim that Ujiri assaulted Strickland on his way down to the court to celebrate Toronto's win over the Warriors after Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals.
In a countersuit filed by Ujiri on Tuesday, body camera footage was released showing that seems to show the altercation being instigated by the officer, and contradicted claims that Ujiri had forcibly assaulted Strickland, leaving him with what the initial lawsuit claimed was "injury to his head, body, health, strength, nervous system, and person, all of which have caused and continue to cause Plaintiff great mental, emotional, psychological, physical, and nervous pain and suffering.”
"There is, however, no objective evidence to support Mr. Strickland’s alleged injuries 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," Ujiri's lawyers wrote in the counterclaim.
Ujiri released a statement of his own Thursday.
"The video sadly demonstrates how horribly I was treated by a law enforcement officer last year in the midst of my team, the Toronto Raptors, winning its first world championship. It was an exhilarating moment of achievement for our organization, for our players, for our city, for our country, and for me personally, given my long-tenured professional journey in the NBA. Yet, unfortunately, I was reminded in that moment that despite all of my hard work and success, there are some people, including those who are supposed to protect us, who will always and only see me as something that is unworthy of respectful engagement. And, there’s only one indisputable reason why that is the case - because I am Black."
The Alameda County Sheriff's Office stood behind Strickland, as Sgt. Ray Kelly says the newly released video doesn't change their position.
“There’s been a snippet of video released publicly that doesn’t tell the story of the entire investigation,” Kelly said (h/t East Bay Times/George Kelly). “That story will have to come out through the process. We stand by our original statements.”
The Toronto Raptors organization made a statement in support of Ujiri, and players for the Raptors spoke up for their president while they compete in the 2020 NBA Playoffs from the Orlando bubble.
"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," the Raptors said in a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle. "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 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."
“I mean, listen, to me it's pretty self-explanatory. And disappointing,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse told reporters after Game 2 of Toronto's first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets (h/t The Canadian Press).
“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.”
“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,” Raptors point guard Fred 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.
Charges against Ujiri ended up not being filed by the Alameda County Sheriff's Office in October of 2019.