Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri's lawyers responded Tuesday to a sheriff's deputy's lawsuit over an altercation during the 2019 NBA Finals -- and dropped some telling video in defense of their client.
Ujiri was making his way to the Oracle Arena court on June 13, 2019, so he could celebrate the Raptors' title-clinching win over the Warriors when he was involved in a shoving match with Alameda County Sheriff’s Deputy Alan Strickland.
Eight months later, Strickland filed a federal lawsuit against Ujiri, the Raptors, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and the NBA, in which he alleged he'd suffered a “permanent disability” as a result of the altercation, and claimed that Ujiri hit him “in the face and chest with both fists."
But Ujiri's legal team -- Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP --- filed a 108-page counterclaim that included an 11-second clip from Strickland's bodycam, painting a completely different picture. In the video, Strickland forcefully shoves Ujiri twice before Ujiri pushes back, and not in the way the deputy had described.
"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.
Strickland also is described as "undeniably the initial aggressor" by Ujiri's lawyers.
The newly released 6 minutes and 20 seconds of video, consisting of three edited clips, shows Ujiri attempting to walk onto the court and Strickland putting his arm out to stop him while asking for Ujiri's credential -- which clearly is displayed in the video. Strickland then is seen pushing Ujiri.
The counterclaim alleges Strickland told Ujiri to "back the f--k up."
"Why did you push me," Ujiri asks. "I'm the president of the Raptors."
The court filing also contains three witness statements, issued under the penalty of perjury, that support Ujiri's account. All three allege that Ujiri did not hit Strickland with closed fists, nor did he make contact with the deputy's face. Additionally, the statements are consistent in their description of Strickland not falling to the ground, nor appearing injured after the altercation.
Those statements all run counter to Strickland's own description of the events, as contained in his February filing. Additionally, the injuries Strickland allegedly suffered do not match up with evidence produced by Ujiri's lawyers.
Ujiri's lawyers also presented photo evidence from Strickland's hospital visit after the altercation, which they argue reveal no visible facial swelling, as he claimed to police. They also cited a video taken by KTVU-TV in February, in which Strickland can be seen going to lunch while accompanied by his wife, carrying boxes and using a power saw outside of his home.
Questions about Strickland's integrity were raised in March, when KTVU revealed that he had been arrested in 1994 and later convicted of insurance fraud -- a charge that was discovered when he applied to be a San Mateo police officer in 2005.
"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."
The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office said in October that no charges would be filed against Ujiri over the incident.