In a lawsuit stemming from an altercation with sheriff’s deputy after the Toronto Raptors won the 2019 NBA championship, attorneys for Masai Ujiri, the team’s president of basketball operations, filed a counterclaim Tuesday that included video the NBA team said shows he “was not an aggressor, but instead was the recipient of two very violent, unwarranted actions.”
Body-cam video in the 108-page counterclaim, filed in U.S. District Court in Oakland, Calif., shows Alan Strickland, a deputy with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, grabbing Ujiri by the jacket and shoving him, telling him to “back the f— up” as Ujiri attempted to pull his team credential from his jacket to show Strickland as he sought to join the team on the Oracle Arena court after the Raptors’ Game 6 victory over the Golden State Warriors.
“Why did you push me?” Ujiri, who played high school basketball in Seattle at Nathan Hale High School, asks in the 6:20 video that includes edited clips. “I’m the president of the Raptors.” The two appear to exchange words and Ujiri shows his credential again. Strickland shoves him a second time and Ujiri shoves back. The two were separated and Ujiri eventually was able to join the team and do a TV interview.
“After being shoved and cursed at, Mr. Ujiri did not respond aggressively toward Mr. Strickland,” the lawsuit states. “Instead, he calmly asked Mr. Strickland why he had pushed him, informed Mr. Strickland he was the Raptors’ President, and held up his all-access arena credential to show it to Mr. Strickland. Rather than trying to communicate with Mr. Ujiri, Mr. Strickland chose to dismiss Mr. Ujiri’s claim that he was the Raptors’ President and ignore the all-access credential Mr. Ujiri was trying to show him. Mr. Strickland then forcefully shoved Mr. Ujiri a second time.
“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. Mr. Ujiri’s defensive response was a reasonable and justified reaction to Mr. Strickland’s use of unnecessary and excessive force.”
Attorneys for Strickland have not responded to a request for comment.
In a federal lawsuit filed in February and naming Ujiri, the NBA and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment as defendants, Strickland alleged that Ujiri assaulted him and that he had “suffered injury to his body, health, strength, activity and person,” causing him “great mental, emotional, psychological, physical, and nervous pain and suffering.” He also filed a workers’ compensation claim alleging Ujiri “circumvented” the security checkpoint and then tried to “storm” the court and “hit him in the face and chest with both fists.”
Although Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern initially requested Ujiri be charged with battery of a peace officer, the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office declined to press charges after an investigation ended with a meeting between the office, Ujiri and his lawyers in October.
The counterclaim, which includes the NBA, the Raptors and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment as co-plaintiffs with Ujiri, alleges that Strickland falsified the encounter with Ujiri, calling it “a complete fabrication” and an attempt to portray Ujiri as “the initial aggressor and an inherently violent individual.”
The counterclaim contains statements from three witnesses who allege that Ujiri did not hit Strickland with closed fists or make contact with the deputy’s face.
“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.”