An asylum seeker from Cameroon has filed a lawsuit against the US government alleging he was assaulted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers while they were trying to force him to formally consent to his deportation.
According to The Guardian, the plaintiff, identified as Acheleke Fuanya, alleges the officers knelt on his neck and choked him during the January incident that occurred at a prison in Louisiana. Fuanya claims he has been suffering from constant back and waist pain as well as post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the confrontation. Fuanya also alleges he developed COVID-19 symptoms after the said physical altercation, adding that the officers had flouted official rules as they were not wearing masks during the incident.
And though Fuanya spoke with officials about the incident, it cannot be established if the case was actually fully investigated and if disciplinary proceedings against the accused officers were opened. The lawsuit also states that the plaintiff also filed an official complaint with the office of general counsel of the Department of Homeland Security – the establishment the ICE falls under. But nothing has been done so far.
Per the lawsuit that was filed Thursday at a district court in Colorado, five ICE officers allegedly launched an attack on Fuanya “without provocation.” “The officers surrounded Mr Fuanya, tripped him to the ground, and kneeled on his neck, and pulled his head forward in order to suffocate him,” the suit states. “Other officers yanked his arms and twisted his leg and ankle. Even after Mr Fuanya pleaded with the officers to get off of him because he could not breathe, they continued to choke him until they grabbed his fingers and forcibly fingerprinted him.”
The confrontation stemmed from the officers attempting to append Fuanya’s fingerprint as a signature on a document though he had declined to sign until his lawyer took a look at it. And though the document’s contents weren’t disclosed, there have been reported cases of asylum seekers being allegedly forced by ICE officers to sign documents that waive their asylum rights among other things, The Guardian reported. This alleged tactic provides a legal backing to deportations.
In an interview with the news outlet, Fuanya said he filed the lawsuit “because I want to create changes for those who may be coming behind me, and for those who are still in detention going through this, going through what I went through”.
He added it was “painful” similar cases and complaints like his yielded no outcome after investigations despite believing “the United States is a country that upholds human rights, justice, good values and morals.”
The Cameroonian asylum seeker said the February confrontation has left him in pain. “I have lower back pain. I don’t sleep a lot. I have a lot of nightmares. I’m on medicines and going through anxiety and depression. I think a lot about it and I cry a lot,” the plaintiff said.
Fuanya is from Cameroon’s war-ravaged Anglophone region. Prior to entering the United States, Fuanya said police officers in Cameroon tortured him in 2018, adding that his father – a government critic – and his uncle have disappeared after they were arrested. He also claims policemen sexually assaulted his mother.
The plaintiff was scheduled to be deported to his native country on February 3. But he was removed from that flight after he tested positive for COVID-19. “I would have been in detention, or I would have been killed. Those are two options,” Fuanya told The Guardian about what would have probably happened to him had he been deported.
The Cameroonian national is under supervised release in Colorado pending the outcome of his asylum case.