CLEVELAND – An Emirati man who was detained by police at an Ohio hotel after a clerk heard him speaking Arabic and thought he was pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group sued the hotel chain, police and others, claiming he was the victim of an "unjustified SWAT-style assault."
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The incident occurred in June 2016 when Ahmed al-Menhali, 41, tried to check into a Fairfield Inn and Suites in Avon, a city about 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of Cleveland, for an extended stay. Al-Menhali and his wife had been living temporarily in Ohio while he received medical treatment at the Cleveland Clinic following open heart surgery the previous February, says the federal lawsuit filed Wednesday in Cleveland.
Al-Menhali was dressed in traditional Emirati clothing — a robe, headscarf and headband — when he spoke with the clerk and was told no rooms were available, the lawsuit says. When al-Menhali began talking on a cellphone in Arabic, the clerk texted family members about a man "in full headdress" with multiple disposable phones "pledging his allegiance to ISIS." The clerk's sister and father called 911.
Avon police responded with guns drawn, the lawsuit says. Officers ordered al-Menhali to drop his phone and get on the ground, stripped him of his shoes and threw of one of his phones into some bushes, according to the suit. He was handcuffed, and an officer placed a knee in his back while other officers searched his belongings before determining he wasn't a terrorist, the lawsuit says.
The clerk, also a defendant in the suit, told police she became suspicious because al-Menhali had two cellphones and never took off his sunglasses.
After police allowed him to stand, al-Menhali collapsed and was taken to a hospital where he spent four days with symptoms of a stroke, his attorney, Terry Gilbert, said Thursday. Gilbert called the incident "the worst kind of Islamophobia."
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"The trauma of this has affected him deeply," Gilbert said. "None of this should have happened."
The Emirates issued a statement after al-Menhali was detained recommending that people not wear traditional garb while traveling abroad.
A spokesman for the Marriott hotel chain declined to comment about the lawsuit, which seeks monetary damages.
The mayor of Avon posed a statement on Twitter saying the city is reviewing the lawsuit. Mayor Bryan Jensen said the city once again apologizes to al-Menhali for the "unfortunate" incident.
"However, given the information we received at the time from the 911 caller, we continue to support our officers, who followed the appropriate procedures and protocols the department uses when a possible active threat has been identified," Jensen's statement says.