Two Black members of the 2016 Idaho State University football team are suing police in Idaho and Utah, alleging they were victims of false arrest, illegal search and seizure, and excessive force based on their race, reports KSL News. The two players, Nehemiah McFarlin and Atoatasi Fox, through their Orem, Utah-based attorney, Daniel Steele, filed a civil rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Utah on Dec. 19.
McFarlin and Fox are seeking at least $10,000 in damages, claiming they were detained, arrested and then threatened for more than 24 hours while in police custody in Utah’s Box Elder County after being accused of robbing a Malad bank in December 2016. “Other than being ‘Black,’ neither McFarlin nor Fox matched the description of the robbery participant,” Steele said in the suit. Dakota Shareef Walker, the then 20-year-old Black man from Topeka, Kansas, who did rob the US Bank in Malad — along with four other U.S. banks in four different states, and a Wells Fargo in Preston — was federally indicted on the first of those five robberies less than a month after McFarlin and Fox were accused and held by police.
Walker plead guilty to the five bank robberies this January, was sentenced to serve 6.5 years in federal prison in August and ordered to pay more than $24,000 in fines and restitution. When Walker robbed the Malad Bank that December day in 2016, Steele said in the suit that McFarlin and Fox, both age 18 at the time, had just finished a semester of school at ISU and were on their way home to enjoy the holidays with their families. McFarlin was driving his brand new 2017 Chevy Camaro and Fox was riding as a passenger in the vehicle when McFarlin hit a slick section of road, lost control of the vehicle and struck a divider in the median of Interstate 15 between Malad and the Portage, Utah exit in Box Elder County.
Steele said in the suit that after pulling over to assess the damage the pair continued on their journey until they heard loud scraping sounds coming from the undercarriage of the car and decided to pull over on a road off the Portage exit and call AAA for assistance. “Fox, who had been visiting with his mother and girlfriend while on the trip was in the middle of (video calling) his girlfriend when they were suddenly and unceremoniously confronted by and ordered out of the Camaro at gunpoint by several police officers,” the suit said.
The Oneida County Sheriff’s Office had broadcast to other law enforcement and local media around 3 p.m. that day that an armed robbery had occurred at the Malad U.S. Bank and described the suspect as a Black male in his early 20s wearing a hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses. Furthermore, the suspect was described as driving a four-door Toyota with “extreme front end damage, no hub caps … a temporary (registration) sticker and no window tinting,” according to a news statement that former Oneida County Sheriff Jeff Semrad, who was sheriff at the time. McFarlin and Fox were arrested, issued around 4 p.m. that day.
While McFarlin and Fox were waiting for AAA, a citizen allegedly called the Box Elder County dispatch to report that a white car was off the Portage exit and that two Black males were in the car, Steele said in the suit. Guns drawn, two Utah Highway Patrol troopers arrived and ordered McFarlin and Fox out of the car, searched them, handcuffed them and placed them under arrest for robbing the Malad bank earlier that day, Steele said in the suit. The suit claims that not only were McFarlin and Fox nowhere near the Malad area when the bank was robbed, but the pair also offered alibi information, including their calls to AAA, that would demonstrate the pair could not have been involved in the robbery.
“Defendants disregarded the information and evidence that McFarlin and Fox offered, and arrested (them) without probable cause,” Steele said in the suit, adding that after the pair was incarcerated at the Box Elder County Jail in Brigham City, and “Throughout the ordeal, McFarlin and Fox were coerced, berated, threatened and informed that they were going to prison for a very long time.” McFarlin and Fox were denied any communication with family for several hours, according to the suit. Though McFarlin’s Camaro was seized, searched and inventoried at the scene of the pair’s arrest, no evidence of the robbery was found, further corroborating McFarlin and Fox’s information, the suit said.
After spending a night in the Box Elder County Jail, McFarlin and Fox were released at approximately 6 p.m. the day after the robbery. In addition to both Oneida and Box Elder counties and their respective Sheriffs’ Offices, the suit lists 18 individual members of law enforcement in Idaho and Utah including Semrad and Oneida County Detective Patsy Sherman. McFarlin remains a member of the ISU football team and played last season before an injury sidelined him this season, according to Steven Schaack, ISU deputy athletics director. Schaack said that Fox’s last season with the Bengals was in 2017.
Fox’s mother, Nika Fox, told the Journal last week that her son’s experience with Idaho and Utah police was likely the most traumatic experience he has ever endured. “For hours, I didn’t know if they were dead or what was going on,” Nika Fox said. “I admire my son for the way he handled it. He had never been in trouble before, so I know that this was probably the most traumatic thing for him to have to endure.”