“The Truth Is Going To Come Out At Trial And Dolan Will Be Held Responsible For What He Did.” Knicks Great Charles Oakley Appeals, Won’t Give Up Fight

Basketball: Big 3
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Former Knicks Power Forward Charles Oakley is out to win. Recently his claims for false imprisonment, defamation and assault and battery against Knicks owner James Dolan were dismissed. But an Appellate Court revived his five-year long case.

Three Judges in New York reinstated Oakley’s claims for assault and battery, related to a February 8, 2017 incident at MSG where “Oak” was ejected by more than six security guards at the direction of Dolan. The court said a New York jury should get to decide whether the guards used unreasonable or excessive force on Oak. But in an odd twist, the District Judge dismissed the claims yet again and now Oak is going back to the Appellate Court to try to win back his right to a jury trial as promised.

The dramatic and violent altercation will go down in history as a sore spot for many Knicks fans who had to witness the legendary player humiliated and severely distressed, as he was manhandled out of the Garden and thrown to the ground.

In the process, Oakley shoved security personnel and was later arrested and charged with three counts of misdemeanor assault. Charges against Oakley for assault, harassment and trespass were dismissed in August of 2017 when Oakley agreed to stay away from MSG for a year.

Dolan, who has a history of ejecting and feuding with fans and Knicks loyalists, including Director Spike Lee, later told The Michael Kay Show that Oakley “needs help.”

“I do think that Charles needs help,” Dolan said shortly after the incident. He continued, “He’s had many physical altercations. He’s been arrested. He’s had a lot of trouble. It all seems to stem from his anger.”

Dolan, who is a recovering alcoholic, said he “heard statements from police that [Oakley] appeared to be impaired” during the altercation. Oakley later denied the allegation.

“He has a problem with anger,” Dolan told Kay. “He’s both physically and verbally abusive. He may have a problem with alcohol, we don’t know. But those behaviors — being physically and verbally abusive — those are personality problems.”

Oakley was a Knicks fan favorite in the late 80s and throughout the 90s. He alleged that after his playing career, Dolan waged a pattern of disrespect toward him by refusing to make eye contact or shake his hand, making him pay for tickets to games and denying him fan appreciation nights.

Oakley said that during the ouster Dolan treated him “like a common criminal” and intended to “publicly embarrass him on live television.” Oak’s subsequent lawsuit accused Dolan of launching a defamatory public relations campaign against the Knicks legend.

Dolan and Oakley’s recollections of what prompted the incident were drastically different. Dolan claimed that Oakley was being verbally abusive to Garden staffers and Oakley’s camp said Dolan “constantly disrespected” Oakley and had “security harass him” when he merely showed up to watch the game peacefully.

“There were service people there who were abused,” Dolan told Kay. Later saying, “And they were abused in a really horrible, angry, nasty way, with racial overtones, sexual overtones, the stuff you never ever want to hear.”

The entire Garden was in awe as they watched a visibly agitated Oak being physically removed by a group of large security guards.

Earlier in the suit, Manhattan Federal Judge Richard Sullivan dismissed the entire suit concluding that security did not violate Oakley’s rights.

“But at this stage of the proceedings, the case is no longer about words. It’s about evidence,” Sullivan wrote. “And the undisputed video evidence conclusively demonstrates that the Garden’s security guards did not use excessive force as they escorted Oakley from the arena.”

While an Appellate Court agreed with Judge Sullivan’s dismissal of Oakley’s claims for defamation and false imprisonment, it disagreed with Sullivan when it came to the assault and battery claims.

The Appellate Court decided that a jury and not a judge should decide whether security used excessive force in removing Oakley from the Garden. However the District Judge tried to toss Oak’s suit again before a jury could decide the facts by granting Dolan’s motion for summary judgment and Oak is appealing.

The ugly incident which happened in the first quarter of a game against the Los Angeles Clippers was all caught on camera. Oakley’s attorneys describe it as Oak being “approached by three large men identifying themselves as being members of MSG’s security team who ordered him to leave the arena without explanation. When Oakley asked why was being forced to leave, one of the security guards “demand[ed] loudly, ‘Why are you sitting so close to Mr. Dolan?’”

The Court papers say, Oakley “attempted to defuse the situation by patiently explaining to the security personnel that he had done nothing wrong and simply wanted to watch the game.” Then, Oakley “raised his arms during this encounter, in a defensive posture that clearly conveyed that he had no intention of engaging in any violent behavior,” according to his attorneys. Oakley “attempted to demonstrate that he was capable of watching the game without creating an incident, by turning around and peaceably returning to his seat.”

In fact, the video does show Oakley being approached by security to leave but instead he tries to return to his seat with his hands up. Security guards surround Oakley, repeatedly placing their hands on him and he even falls to the ground at one point before getting visibly agitated and shoving the guards off of him as they repeatedly touch and grab him.

Oak’s attorneys say he did not leave the Garden when approached because he “merely sought an explanation for why he was being treated differently than every other fan who had attended the Knicks game that night.” The court papers say that while Oak tried to find out why he was being ejected, “two of the security guards grabbed Mr. Oakley and pushed him to the ground.”

“In forcibly shoving Mr. Oakley to the ground within seconds of first approaching him, and without any physical threat or provocation from Mr. Oakley, the security guards clearly exceeded the bounds of reasonable behavior and instigated a physical altercation where there otherwise was no need for such violent conduct…When Mr. Oakley got back to his feet, the security guards further escalated the confrontation by physically grabbing Mr. Oakley to forcibly compel him to leave…Fearing for his safety as he was surrounded by several large security guards, and having already been roughly shoved to the ground once, Mr. Oakley pushed their hands away in self-defense.”

“Within seconds, Mr. Oakley was forcibly turned around so his back faced security, grabbed by six officers and thrown to the ground….The security guards further refused Mr. Oakley’s repeated requests that he be allowed to stand up, instead crowding around him and impeding his ability to get to his feet….Oakley was then put into restraints and the security guards roughly threw him out of the Garden.”

Oak’s attorneys contend that the guards “greatly exceeded the amount of force that was necessary in the situation.”

Under the law, a ticket to a sporting event is a revocable license that may be revoked for any reason by the person granting it. Once revoked, and asked to leave, the ticket holder becomes a trespasser if he or she refuses. The property owner can use reasonable force to eject a trespasser, however, it must be reasonable under the circumstances. The use of unnecessary force or any evidence of intent to injure removes the privilege to use force.

The lower court Judge Sullivan reasoned that “the MSG Defendants had the right to expel Oakley from the Garden and that his refusal to leave justified their use of reasonable force to remove him.”

However, the three Judges on the Appellate panel said that since Oakley alleges that he was “forcibly shov[ed] to the ground,” “grabbed by six officials and thrown onto the ground,” and that he “has suffered and continues to suffer harm,” it is reasonable to infer that he was subjected to an amount of force unnecessary for the situation and the final determination should be made by a jury. The Appellate Court said that the reasonableness of force used should take into account “the severity of the crime” or in this case, the alleged offensive behavior that prompted his removal.

“The question of whether the use of force was reasonable under the circumstances is generally best left for a jury to decide,” the opinion stated.

Madison Square Garden released a statement, saying officials are happy most claims were dismissed.

In a statement from his lawyers, Oakley said: “I am appreciative of the appeals court as I now have a chance to show the world what I said from day one was true. The truth is going to come out at trial and Dolan will be held responsible for what he did.”

His lawyer, Douglas Wigdor is appealing.