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Lawsuit: Islamic rights group claims Customs officials used excessive force against elderly professor at LAX

By Steve Bittenbender

A 77-year-old Egyptian-American claims four Customs and Border Protection agents used unnecessary force and caused serious injuries in detaining him before he could board a flight at Los Angeles International Airport. That’s according to a federal lawsuit filed on his behalf by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) earlier this month.

On Feb. 21, 2014, Abdul Salem was preparing to take a British Airways flight to Cairo, Egypt. Initially he was briefly detained by Transportation Security Administration agents because the name on his boarding pass did not completely match the name on his U.S. passport. After presenting those officers with his Egyptian passport, they allowed him to go to his gate.

A short time later, as he was preparing to board the plane, a Customs officer stopped him in the bridge area. The officer asked Salem, who according to the lawsuit had been cleared, for his passport. The lawsuit states TSA agents only cleared Salem after he showed them his Egyptian passport because the name on his U.S. passport did not completely match his boarding pass.

After Salem asked why he was being detained, the suit says three additional CBP agents arrived on the scene.

The agents claimed Salem sought to strike the first agent. They eventually took Salem to an interrogation room at the airport, and when they tried to put handcuffs on him, an agent broke Salem’s right arm. Eventually, he was taken to a second room in the basement of LAX.

“The actions taken by Customs and Border Protection officers were unwarranted, excessive, and a serious abuse of power,” said Fatima Dadabhoy, an attorney for CAIR’s Los Angeles chapter. “The manner in which Dr. Salem was treated by CBP officers was simply inhumane and is another example of the nation’s largest law enforcement agency’s pattern and practice of excessive use of force.”

The officers also searched Salem’s belongings but were unable to find any illegal materials in his luggage.

After Customs agents cleared him to leave, around 10 p.m., Salem requested medical attention for his arm. In the suit, Salem claims that despite paramedics determining he suffered a fracture, the first responders from the Los Angeles Fire Department did not provide any assistance or transport him to a hospital.

Salem would eventually leave the airport around 1 a.m., roughly four hours after he was detained.

According to a CAIR-LA statement, Salem works as a playwright and a professor at the Academy of Arts in Cairo. However, in the 20 months since the incident, he has not been able to write as he once did, limiting his ability to work. In addition, CAIR claims Salem is now fearful of any interaction with airport law enforcement agents.

The lawsuit does not name specific Customs or LAFD officers because Salem did not have their names during the time of the incident.

Salem seeks damages for the alleged assault as well as for his Constitutional rights he claims were violated, as well as any punitive damages in a trial by jury.

The lawsuit only provides one side of the story.

Citing agency policy, representatives from Customs said they do not comment on pending litigation.


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