(CN) – A citizen of the United Arab Emirates claims relatives of a Marriott employee in Ohio falsely accused him of pledging allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist group, triggering a police takedown and a travel warning from his home country.
Ahmed Al-Menhali and his wife, Taghrid Milki, also named police officers in Avon, Ohio, in the federal lawsuit they filed in Cleveland on Wednesday.
Al-Menhali, 41, says he was staying at the Fairfield Inn & Suites in June 2016 while he was receiving treatment at the Cleveland Clinic.
Because he was “an Arab man, wearing traditional dress and speaking Arabic,” Al-Menhali claims he “experienced the worst aspects of American Islamophobia and racism.”
Avon police “violently approached Mr. Al-Menhali with weapons fixed upon him, used excessive force against him, and detained him without probable cause and without any legal justification,” according to the lawsuit.
Al-Menhali added that the incident caused him to suffer a stroke, as well a loss of business due to publicity in America and the UAE.
He stated that he had never had problems traveling in the past while wearing his kandura robe, headscarf and headband. He says he talked to Fairfield Inn employees about the possibility of an extended stay at the hotel or other nearby lodgings.
Avon police received a call from the sister of hotel employee and defendant Alexis Silva, according to the lawsuit. The caller allegedly told police there was a man in the lobby “in full headdress with multiple disposable phones pledging his allegiance to ISIS.”
Silva’s father also called 911 and said his daughter was “terrified” and hiding “in the back,” the complaint states.
Al-Menhali claims Avon police arrived while he was outside the hotel.
“The heavily armed defendant officers ran toward the businessman, assaulted him, forced him to the ground, stripped him of his shoes, and threw at least one of plaintiff’s cellular phones into the bushes,” according to the lawsuit.
Al-Menhali added that police handcuffed him and searched him and his belongings.
“What is this?” Al-Menhali reportedly said. “I’m a tourist and this is not good.”
He collapsed and was taken to St. John Westshore Medical Center, according to the complaint. Al-Menhali says he suffered a stroke and also felt “an incredible amount of pain” since he had undergone open heart surgery four months earlier.
Despite receiving apologies from Avon’s mayor and police chief, Al-Menhali stated that “this Islamophobic episode further exposes the dark, racist underbelly of America thriving under the guise of security.”
The incident caused the United Arab Emirates to warn its citizens against wearing their traditional garments when traveling outside the country.
According to the lawsuit, Marriott initially said “the unusual behavior of a man that had entered the hotel caused the hotel staff to be concerned. A call was placed to authorities who responded right away. As this is a police matter, it would inappropriate to comment further.”
However, Marriott later called the arrest a “terrible misunderstanding” and stated that it would “discuss diversity and inclusion training to help prevent this type of situation,” the complaint states.
Al-Menhali and Milki sued the Avon officers for negligence, assault and battery, violations of his First and Fourth Amendment rights, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
They accuse hotel employees of discrimination, making a false alarm, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
In addition, the plaintiffs sued Marriott and its employees for claims of false light invasion of privacy, defamation and negligence.
Attorney Terry Gilbert of the Cleveland law firm of Friedman & Gilbert is representing the plaintiffs, who seek compensatory and punitive damages.
Marriott did not immediately respond Thursday to an email request for comment.
In a statement published by local news outlets, Avon Police Chief Richard Bosley said, “Given the information we received at the time from the 911 caller, police followed the appropriate procedures and protocols the department uses when a possible active threat has been identified.”