Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 16 November 2019

Emirati arrested at gunpoint in US over 'shameful' claim he supported ISIS settles legal case

Ahmed Al Menhali was victimised by hotel staff because of how he dressed and the language he spoke, lawyer says

An Emirati man arrested at gunpoint at US hotel after a false report he supported ISIS has settled a lawsuit that claimed the incident was motivated by racism.

Ahmed Al Menhali was the victim of “the worst aspects of American Islamophobia and racism” when he tried to book a room at the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Avon, Ohio, three years ago.

Hotel reception staff were suspicious because he was wearing a kandura, ghutra and making phone calls in Arabic, his lawsuit said.

The incident in June 2016 saw armed police storm the hotel, the Fairfield Inn and Suites, pin Mr Al Menhali to the floor at gunpoint, search him and detain him. Officers rifled through his wallet and even removed his shoes.

What happened to him was a shameful example of how ignorance and intolerance still remain in this country, in this case, because of how he dressed and the language he spoke

Terry Gilbert, lawyer

He sued Marriott International, the hotel franchise operator, in 2017. Mr Al Menhali reached a settlement on Wednesday shortly before the court case was due to begin.

“I’m happy with the American people but not the American court,” he said following the outcome, according to media in Ohio. He added that what happened to him had destroyed his life.

Terry Gilbert, one of his lawyers, was highly critical of the way hotel staff treated his client.

“We are pleased to obtain a significant settlement on behalf of Mr Al Menhali," he said.

"What happened to him was a shameful example of how ignorance and intolerance still remain in this country, in this case, because of how he dressed and the language he spoke.

“Now that a resolution has been reached, Mr Al Menhali and his family can find closure and move forward with their lives.”

The incident drew international attention in 2016, with police releasing bodycam footage of the arrest, as well as of the Avon mayor and police chief later making an apology to Mr Al Menhali.

In the wake of the arrest, the UAE advised its citizens to avoid wearing national dress abroad for their own safety and diplomats expressed concern to US counterparts.

Police, after making the arrest, realised Mr Al Menhali was innocent after they spoke to a hotel staff member, Alexis Silva, who admitted she had been “freaked out” by his appearance, “weird” clothing, and the fact that he had two phones.

Emirati Ahmed Al Menhali recovers in hospital, in 2016, from his ordeal at the hands of armed police in Ohio. Courtesy WEWS NewsChannel5
Emirati Ahmed Al Menhali recovers in hospital, in 2016, from his ordeal at the hands of armed police in Ohio. Courtesy: WEWS NewsChannel5

According to court documents, Ms Silva had texted her sister, father and mother claiming a man was at the hotel, wearing a headdress who was professing allegiance to ISIS.

The family members called police and a SWAT team was dispatched to the scene.

Mr Al Menhali collapsed as police were trying to explain what had happened and he was taken to hospital.

The settlement he received was “confidential,” his legal team said. His wife, Taghrid Milki, had also sought damages for the suffering the incident had caused her.

A case against police officers was dismissed last year.

Speaking to The National in 2016, Mr Al Menhali, who had been in the US for medical treatment, said: “They were brutal with me. They pressed forcefully on my back. I had several injuries and bled from the forceful nature of their arrest.

“I didn’t think they were there for me. I assumed there was some sort of training exercise or event at the hotel but I was shocked to see them barge at me.”

Marriott International is yet to comment.

Updated: September 12, 2019 07:44 PM

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