ST. CHARLES COUNTY, Mo. – A St. Charles County corrections officer is accused of sharing anti-Muslim Facebook posts and also abusing a Muslim inmate.
In an exclusive interview, the now-former inmate, 31-year-old Ali Qandah, told Fox 2 he suffered nearly a year of mistreatment in the St. Charles County Jail, including 8 months in solitary confinement while awaiting trial in a stolen credit card case.
The case dates back more than 5 years.
Qandah had been convicted in the past of theft and stealing was accused of doing it again in 2013-2014. That was no excuse for how he was treated in the jail, he said.
Qandah’s federal lawsuit suit accuses a corrections officer of unlocking his cell as he was kneeling in Muslim prayer with his back to his cell door in late 2014, allowing another inmate to enter and throw him to the floor, causing Qandah’s head to strike a metal toilet.
“All of the sudden, I feel my waist being grabbed, picked up, slammed on the toilet stool, and me being attacked,” he said.
Qandah accused the staff of refusing his request for medical treatment of his swollen head, jaw, and black eye.
His attorneys, the nonprofit civil rights group Arch City Defenders, claim to have learned the same guard who unlocked the cell had publicly posted at least 6 anti-Muslim messages on his personal Facebook page, making claims of Muslim support for “Death to America” and “Sharia Law.”
Qandah is an American and raised in St. Louis County after his family moved here from Jordan when he was a baby.
“There’s no way to disconnect these two things,” said Qandah’s attorney, Javad Khazaeli, with the firm, Khazaeli – Wyrsch (http://kwlawstl.com/). “This person and the other people who are making these comments, followed through on it…it’s unheard of to allow one person who’s in solitary confinement to enter the cell of another person who’s in solitary confinement.”
“I didn’t lose faith in America. I love this country. I just lost faith in the justice system; how they treat certain individuals. I wish machines ran jails,” Qandah said.
He was forced to attend Christian religious services and faced endless interruptions of his prayers by staff through surprise cell searches and name-calling, he said.
“For the longest (time) they were calling me ‘CJ’. I never knew what that was. I let it go. Come to find out one of the guards mentioned ‘camel jockey.’ So, they gave me a nickname,” he said.
A St. Charles County spokeswoman issued the following statement in response to an interview request:
“You asked if an employee who maintains a private Facebook page where he does not identify himself as an employee of the County but reposts certain materials that are critical of public policy, the courts and the media was still employed by the County after this behavior. Yes, (the) Correctional Officer is an employee in the Department of Corrections.
“The St. Charles County Government Charter, Article VII, Personnel and Merit System, speaks to the mandate of the Merit Commission to ensure that there are rules that make certain County employees retain their political participation rights. Further, the County, as a public employer, seeks to balance the interest of the government employee as a citizen with first amendment rights to comment on matters of public concern and the interest of the County, as an employer, in promoting the efficiency of the public services it delivers through its employees. Currently, as long as employees do not identify themselves on a social media site as a County employee, the County does not seek to regulate their speech.
“When allegations in cases such as the one you are referring to are brought to our attention, we review the facts to make sure that the statements of the employee do not go beyond the rights granted to him by the first amendment. We are in the process of doing that now.
“As with all pending litigation, we cannot comment on the case you reference specifically, but can tell you that it is very common for our jail to have inmates of the Muslim faith; we have had for many years. Our officers and our policies treat all inmates the same, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.”
Qandah maintains his innocence but says he pleaded guilty after the beating to escape mistreatment.
He has completed his term of probation.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages with a trial date yet to be set.