Video released by lawyers for Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri appears to show a sheriff’s deputy shoving the executive twice in the moments following the team’s 2019 NBA Finals win in Oakland, Calif.
The footage is one of three video files contained in a court submission shared with media outlets late Tuesday by Cotchett Pitre and McCarthy LLP, the law firm representing Ujiri in U.S. federal court.
The firm filed a 108-page response to a lawsuit filed by Alan Strickland, an Alameda County sheriff’s deputy working as a security guard at Oracle Arena during Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors on June 13, 2019, against Ujiri, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and the NBA.
“The entire encounter between Mr. Strickland and Mr. Ujiri was brief — approximately 11 seconds as shown on film,” said the court filing in the case, which has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the North District of California.
“The entire incident was caught on camera. The video footage shows Mr. Strickland was undeniably the initial aggressor,” the court filing states.
Ujiri went onto the court to join his celebrating team when Strickland stopped him because the Raptors executive didn’t provide the proper on-court credential, leading to a shoving match. Prosecutors decided in October 2019 not to press criminal charges against Ujiri.
Strickland alleged in a lawsuit filed in February that he suffered injuries “which caused and continue to cause great mental, physical, emotional and psychological pain and suffering” after the incident. He and his wife, Kelly Strickland, are seeking US$75,000 in general damages as well as other compensation including punitive damages, lost wages, current and future medical expenses and legal costs.
In the 11-second, body-worn camera footage shared by the law firm representing Ujiri, the video appears to show him approaching Strickland and as he gets close he appears to pull out a black NBA Finals lanyard from his suit jacket pocket. The filing said Ujiri had an all-access credential for the facility and had walked by other security personnel without incident.
A security representative next to Strickland appeared to be looking at the lanyard with a card attached as Ujiri attempts to walk by.
“Show him, show him,” someone can be heard saying.
The camera got right up against Ujiri before the video appeared to show Strickland shoving Ujiri. The documents alleged it was Strickland who then told Ujiri to, “Back the f— up.” Ujiri could be heard questioning why he was being pushed and telling Strickland he was the president of the Raptors before the video appeared to show Strickland shoving Ujiri again.
Someone appeared to try to intervene, saying, “Please, please, please.” Just before the clip ended, the video appeared to show Ujiri shoving back.
“Only after being unjustifiably told to ‘back the f— up’ and shoved twice did Mr. Ujiri show any response and return a shove to Mr. Strickland’s chest,” the court filing said.
“Mr. Ujiri’s defensive response was a reasonable and justified reaction to Mr. Strickland’s use of unnecessary and excessive force.”
Up until the most recent disclosure, only part of the incident was captured on video and subsequently shared on social media.
Almost two minutes of overhead video contained in the court filings appeared to show Ujiri walking through the crowd after the game to greet his wife, who was still in the crowd, and then attempting to make his way to the basketball court before encountering Strickland. Five minutes of body-camera footage shows the crowd standing around before the shoving incident.
The court filing rejects Strickland’s claims that Ujiri’s manner was “quick and aggressive” and that Ujiri hit him in the face, calling it “completely false” by citing the videos as well as witness statements. The firm said there was no “objective evidence” to support that Strickland sustained a concussion, shoulder pain or facial injuries, adding pictures taken after the incident didn’t appear to show facial bruising or swelling.
The documents alleged “reports of Mr. Ujiri’s wealth along with the obvious ‘deep pockets’ of the Toronto Raptors and the NBA may have motivated Mr. Strickland to pursue his frivolous and fraudulent claims.” The court filing says Strickland pleaded guilty to a 2005 misdemeanour insurance fraud charge and shows pictures of Strickland working around his house.
Global News contacted the law firm representing Strickland late Tuesday to ask for comment, but a representative was unavailable.
The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office initially backed Strickland’s assertion that Ujiri was the aggressor. When asked for comment Tuesday night, a spokesperson referred a request for comment to Strickland’s legal counsel.
However, after the publication of this story, Sgt. Ray Kelly briefly spoke with Global News. He claimed the video released by Ujiri’s lawyers doesn’t tell the full story and that there are multiple sides. Kelly said people shouldn’t rush to judgment, adding the matter still needs to be considered by the court.
When asked for a comment on the legal proceedings, a Toronto Raptors spokesperson issued a statement on behalf of the team and said they have “always maintained that the claims made against Masai are baseless and entirely without merit” and that the “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,” the statement said.
“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.”
Meanwhile, Ujiri filed a counterclaim seeking nominal and punitive damages as well as reimbursement for legal expenses.
The case is still before the court and none of the allegations have been proven.
— With files from The Canadian Press