Fombah Sirleaf Alleges Racial Profiling in Lawsuit

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In a lawsuit filed by J. Graves Associates in the United States District Court of New Jersey docketed as 14 cv 7653, the stepson of Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf is accusing the Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police of condoning racial profiling.

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In an ongoing, seven-month-long case alleging false arrest and racial profiling, Fombah Sirleaf, the stepson of Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf is accusing the Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police of condoning racial profiling, resulting in the alleged false arrest of the prominent West African, who also is his country’s national security chief.

According to the allegations of the lawsuit, the state police violated Sirleaf’s and Summerville’s civil rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit alleges that the state police detectives racially profiled and falsely arrested Sirleaf and Summerville after the two stopped loading their purchases into their vehicle to observe an apparent drug bust underway in the mall parking lot.

As Sirleaf’s federal complaint describes, Sirleaf is a celebrated law enforcement official, he once worked undercover wearing an eavesdropping device as part of a United States Drug and Enforcement Agency operation to help bust nine men who prosecutors allege were attempting to use bribes to build a new West African smuggling route to Europe, where $100 million of cocaine was destined for Europe and the U.S.

According to court documents, the false arrest incident began with a shopping trip to Jersey Gardens on an afternoon early in October 2014. Located in Elizabeth, the outlet mall is the largest of its kind in New Jersey. Visiting from Liberia, Sirleaf was driven to the mall by Summerville to buy extra luggage to pack his U.S. purchases for the return flight to Africa. Having bought two new suitcases, the two men returned to Summerville’s parked Mercedes SUV. Standing at the raised rear hatch of the vehicle, they began packing smaller purchases into the luggage. Some 40 yards over their shoulders, about five unmarked cars were in pursuit of a white Lexus with a black driver. He was quickly apprehended after his car was blocked. As Sirleaf and Summerville prepared to leave, the state police detectives involved in the bust charged toward them with guns drawn. According to court documents, Sirleaf and Summerville were forced to the pavement and handcuffed behind their backs.

According to allegations in the lawsuit, the two were held against their will and interrogated for more than an hour; both identified themselves, repeatedly explained their purpose at the mall and clearly stated they didn’t know the man in the Lexus. A search of Mr. Summerville’s Mercedes turned up no evidence of a crime. Nor did the detectives find any outstanding warrants issued for either man through a computer check. Yet, according to the allegations of the lawsuit, the interrogation and detention persisted, along with accusations that Sirleaf and Summerville were criminal associates of the Lexus driver. They were finally released, having been charged with no crime, approximately two hours after the harrowing ordeal began and only after mall surveillance tapes corroborated their account.

For the detectives’ alleged illegal conduct, the lawsuit blames Col. Fuentes, Superintendent of New Jersey State Police and a 37-year department veteran. The lawsuit alleges that under Col. Fuentes’ command and with his awareness, none of the detectives were disciplined for any of their illegal or improper conduct in this matter. Generally, the lawsuit alleged, under Col. Fuentes command, efforts to retrain, supervise or discipline the New Jersey State Police force to eradicate racial profiling and racial bias have failed or been lacking.

Sirleaf is litigating this False Arrest case in the United States District Court of New Jersey, Docketed as 14 cv 7653 and is represented by Jerry Graves of J. Graves Associates, Civil Rights Lawyers, 212 361-9399.

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