A week after a Wichita family was detained after trying to deposit a $151,000 check at a local bank, they say they live in fear and wonder whether they need to leave the community.
Sattar Ali first lived in Wichita several years ago. It was friendly and seemed like a good place to move back to when he decided to continue pursuing his doctoral degree in mechanical engineering.
But after he was handcuffed and questioned when Emprise Bank couldn’t verify the legitimacy of the check using its usual channels on Sept. 6, he says he and his Iraqi-American family are thinking about moving to a more welcoming city.
“Honestly at this time we are afraid of anyone who knocks on our door,” said Ali, who is from Iraq. “We don’t know when the police will come.”
His wife and 15-year-old daughter also were detained for about three hours.
He thinks the bank’s response amounts to racial profiling.
“I’ve lived in the states for almost 30 years, and I’ve never experienced that,” he said. “We are living in fear.”
Teri Ginther, chief operating officer for Emprise, said Wednesday night that the concerns were caused by the check, not the person presenting it. “I can’t state strongly enough that we do not tolerate discrimination of any kind at Emprise Bank. Ever.”
Ali said he is considering legal action that may include a lawsuit, he told The Eagle in an interview this week.
Wichita police, in a statement released Wednesday, said officers went to the bank branch at about 12:40 p.m. after receiving a “forgery in progress” call. Bank employees told officers they couldn’t verify that Ali’s check was real through their usual procedures, and the officers took the family to the department’s Investigations Division, the department said.
Ali said he presented the check, proceeds from his home sale in Dearborn, Mich., on Sept. 1, to the bank after making an offer on a home in Wichita and asked staff to deposit it into his account. He never asked for cash, he said.
“I didn’t know what was going on or why the arrest,” Ali said, adding that when he was escorted out of the building he saw police patrol cars surrounding the vehicle where his wife and daughter waited for his return.
He said he wasn’t read his rights, had his belongings confiscated by police and received no explanation about why he was being detained until he was freed.
“I’d never been in handcuffs before in my life,” Ali said. “We were placed in cells. ... Later on they came out and said, ‘You are free to go.’”
Wichita police, in the statement, said they “followed department policy regarding forgery calls” and released Ali after verifying that his check was real.
Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said that “even though WPD Officers followed policy, we feel bad for what happened in the course of the investigation. When unfortunate situations such as this one arise, it creates an opportunity for dialogue between the police and the community. That dialogue can help us improve.”
Ali says he gave a phone number to bank employees to call to verify the check’s legitimacy. But, he says, they never used it.
Emprise uses its own sources to verify checks, Ginther said, not phone numbers provided by customers. A common tactic used by forgers is to provide a phone number for verification and have a partner in the scheme answer the call and vouch for its authenticity.
In its statement, Emprise Bank said its decision to call the police “was solely based on our internal procedures related to verifying fundamental security features and the routing number of the check.”
Emprise “does not control who or how many law enforcement officers respond to a call, but we rely on their experience and expertise to determine the next step,” the bank’s statement said.
The Police Department and the bank said they had apologized to Ali.
Ginther said bank officials are looking into why they were unable to verify the routing number but the police department was.
Ali said his wife, Halid Alsadi, and his daughter are still shaken by last week’s events.
His 11-year-old son — who learned his parents had been detained when he called his mother’s phone from school during the confusion — hasn’t been back to his on-site classes at Andover eCademy since, Ali said.
And he wonders whether his and his 18-year-old son’s studies will be interrupted if the family decides to move.
Both are students at Wichita State University.
“Our life was so calm, so organized,” he said. “Everything was set up. I was planning to finish my PhD and settle here in the city. And all of a sudden we got this.”
Ali says the treatment he and his family received might have been commonplace in the past but has no place in today’s world.
“Where is the law and order? Where are the Constitutional rights?” he said.
“We are having issues that shouldn’t be 21st century-type issues. I believe we’ve gone backward at this time.”
Contributing: Stan Finger of the Eagle