Three weeks before the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, a Muslim man in traditional attire asked multiple questions about booking a hotel for a month and refused to leave the hotel despite learning that it was booked for the time he wanted. A hotel clerk, disturbed by his actions, asked her family to call 911. The police responded immediately, because the clerk’s sister said the man had mentioned the Islamic State (ISIS).
The clerk was fired in less than a week, and now the police may charge her, thus setting a dangerous precedent that if you point out a potential threat, you yourself will land in jail. This is not to say that the man himself was a threat, but the circumstances were suspicious and the hotel clerk has arguably been mistreated in this case, with a chilling effect on the idea that “if you see something, say something.”
The Lorain County Prosecutor’s Office in Avon, Ohio, will determine whether charges will be filed against the former hotel clerk who told her family members to call 911 to report that a Muslim man was acting suspiciously in the lobby, local news reported. The call was made last Wednesday. As of Tuesday morning, the clerk was no longer employed by Fairfield Inn & Suites at Colorado Avenue.
Here is a video of the clerk explaining her call to the police.
Here is a brief portion of the call:
Clerk: He wanted somewhere in Avon or Elyria. He wanted a month’s stay. He was leaving July 13 to the 14 around there and I tried to help him as much as possible. Everywhere said they are booked and couldn’t help him, I told him. And then he wanted to sit in our lobby. He didn’t want to leave.
Officer: So you said you guys were booked?
Clerk: I said we’re booked. Everywhere he called is booked too. It’s summer. People are traveling. He had two phones. He was searching the Internet on one phone, making calls on a disposible phone. That’s really all I know. It just freaks me out because of everything going on.
Officer: He didn’t say anything else?
Clerk: No, it’s just…
Officer: Because the call we got is that someone said he was pledging his allegiance to ISIS.
Clerk: No, no, no, no, he…
Officer: Who would have said that? Who made the call?
Clerk: I told my sister–it’s my sister–her name is [redacted], she called. I said he’s dressed in a weird outfit, he has a disposable phone. I said I don’t know what to do because of everything going on…going on with ISIS. I said call the police, because we couldn’t because he kept coming up here.
While the police ordered their fellow officers to stand down, the Muslim man had already been placed in handcuffs. Identified as Ahmed Al Menhali of the United Arab Emirates, the man collapsed while in custody and was taken to a local hospital for treatment.
Police apologized to Al Menhali after the incident. “No one from the police department (wanted) to disrespect you,” Police Chief Richard Bosley said. “It is a very regrettable circumstance that occurred for you. You should not have been put in that situation like you were.”
“There were some false accusations made against you,” said the mayor, Bryan Jensen. He then explained that a county prosecutor could take further action, such as asking a grand jury to consider criminal charges against the former clerk.
“This is the process we follow in such situations,” Jansen added. “The police investigate. The prosecutor considers everything the police have collected and decides whether to pursue charges with a grand jury.”
“If you see something, say something is great,” Bosley said. “But it has to be based on facts, not assumptions. What someone reports to the police has a dramatic impact on how police respond. You can put onlookers and our own officers in unnceseccary danger if you report untrue information.”
The clerk was frazzled, and she may have unfairly profiled the man. She should probably have waited for more evidence. But if a hotel clerk can end up in jail for reporting what she thinks is suspicious behavior, how can we stop future attacks?
Next Page: How political correctness can stop us from identifying terrorists.
Multiple people had contacted the FBI to warn them about Omar Mateen before the tragic attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last month. An old friend of his, who attended the same mosque and learned that Mateen was listening to sermons of the terrorist Anwar Al-Awlaki, called the FBI to warn them. Mateen was a known quantity to the FBI, but they never prosecuted him.
Worse, neighbors of the San Bernardino shooter, Syed Rizwan Farook, told ABC that they noticed “suspicious activity” at his home before the shooting, but did not report it — for fear of being labeled racist.
One neighbor recalled police being called to the Farook household, “maybe for a domestic violence dispute.” Another, Aaron Elswick, a neighbor of Farook’s mother, said another neighbor told him “they had I guess been receiving packages — quite a few packages within a short amount of time, and they were actually doing a lot of work out in the garage.”
“She was kind of suspicious and wanted to report it,” Elswick recalled, “but she said she didn’t want to profile.”
If this hotel clerk not only gets fired but ends up in jail for reporting suspicious behavior, how many more people will be dissuaded from saying something when they see something?
The Republican National Convention will take place between July 18 and July 21 in nearby Cleveland, Ohio. If the man was truly engaged in suspicious behavior this close to the Republican convention, it would make sense to have heightened scrutiny surrounding him. In this case, the 911 call seems misplaced, but if this woman faces trial, it may chill those who observe true threats and discourage them from reporting suspicious activity.
There are brave and patriotic Muslims in this country, and they don’t deserve to be profiled. But if we deal harshly with everyone who reports suspicious behavior — even if it is wrong — we will be less safe in those few cases where a real terrorist would have been caught.