An official of the Wichita bank where a family was detained last week called authorities’ response to a report of a fake check that day atypical — but law enforcement says there was nothing unusual about how they handled the call and that officers were acting within policy.
Usually when the bank reports a possible forgery, a law enforcement officer arrives at the branch and speaks to the customer in question as well as staff, said Teri Ginther, chief operating officer of Emprise Bank. But on Sept. 6 — for reasons Ginther says aren’t clear to her — several officers showed up at 2140 N. Woodlawn after the bank called 911 because it couldn’t verify the legitimacy of a $151,000 check a customer wanted to deposit.
It also seemed unusual that a Sedgwick County sheriff’s deputy handcuffed Sattar Ali in the bank’s lobby, she said.
“It was not a typical response,” Ginther said.
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But Wichita police Capt. Doug Nolte said Friday that the department thinks law enforcement response that day “was very much consistent with how we always handle an in-progress crime.”
The Wichita Police Department has said officers who went to the bank thought a crime was in progress after an employee called 911, saying she had received a fake check from Ali. The bank employee told officers the routing number on the check didn’t match the location of the financial institution that had issued it.
She also said the check appeared to be altered and had no watermark or phone number on it, according to a recording of the 911 call released Friday.
“All that information is being passed on to officers as they’re arriving. So we’re hearing things about this is a fake check. This has been an altered check. You listen to it (the 911 call) and there is no doubt in their mind when they’re talking to dispatchers that this is not a legit check,” Nolte said.
“If they’re putting out all these things and saying, ‘Hurry’ or ‘Get there quickly,’ they’re setting up the call so that they think they might be leaving. We don’t know. And the last thing we want to do is have somebody that’s trying to break the law get away.”
Law enforcement response
Officers from the Wichita Police Department, the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office and the Kansas Highway Patrol were among the first at the scene. Law enforcement officials said Friday that when a call about a crime in progress goes out over emergency radio, whichever officers are closest to the location will respond regardless of their agency.
A Sedgwick County sheriff’s deputy, who was among the first law enforcement officers at the scene, placed the handcuffs on Ali after talking to him and bank staff, Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Lin Dehning confirmed. The deputy then took him out of the bank and turned him over to Wichita police.
Dehning said the deputy told Ali “if he hadn’t done anything wrong, he wouldn’t be in any trouble and the handcuffs would come off.”
Ali and his wife and daughter — who were waiting for him in a car in the parking lot — then were taken by Wichita police to Wichita City Hall for questioning. Detectives later verified that the check was real and released Ali and this family.
The family was detained for fewer than three hours.
The Wichita Police Department’s arrest policy says that “without making an arrest, a law enforcement officer may stop any person in a public place who the officer reasonably suspects is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a crime. ... Such a person may be detained for a reasonable length of time while the officer determines whether a crime has been committed.”
The policy goes on to say that if an officer determines a crime has been committed, the person may be arrested. If there is no crime, the person must be released.
Dehning, the sheriff’s spokesman, also said the deputy had reason to think a felony crime may be occurring based on the information provided by emergency dispatchers and bank staff.
Sheriff’s Office policy allows a deputy who has reason to think a felony crime is being attempted or has occurred to detain suspects pending the outcome of the investigation, he said. “In the initial stages of a call like that, until you know for sure what is going on and you have to detain people, one of the best ways to do that is to handcuff them because you don’t know what is going on, you don’t know what the individual’s mindset is.
“We will do that on a regular basis,” Dehning said.
Ali was not combative and cooperated with the deputy when he was handcuffed, Dehning said.
As to why Ali’s wife and daughter were detained, police Capt. Nolte said: “When we respond to any crime … the crime itself is going to be thoroughly investigated, meaning, we're going to look to see what car they arrived in, is there anyone else waiting. And through the course of investigation, it was very clear that this car was a part of the investigation and who was in it was a part of the investigation. So for us to just say ‘You have nothing to do with this’ and let them go, that would not be doing our due diligence.
“It’s unfortunate because in hindsight we can look at it and say, ‘Well, there was no crime.’ ... At the time that we detained them, we didn’t know what their involvement was. We didn’t know what extent, if any, they played in what we were having to investigate.”
The check’s legitimacy
Nolte said police detectives ultimately verified the legitimacy of the check by calling the people who issued it. “It was pretty straightforward that this, in fact, was a valid check,” he said.
“The bank could have done the same thing.”
Ginther, the Emprise official, said the bank employee who made the 911 call “was confident” she was dealing with a fraudulent check. “We have to rely on the judgment of the tellers observing the check,” she said. She didn't know why the check appeared the way it did and why the routing number didn't show as valid when run through its system.
Ali, an Iraqi-American, has called his treatment a matter of racial profiling. “I’ve lived in the states for almost 30 years. And I’ve never experienced that,” he has said.
Ginther said Emprise Bank is intolerant of discrimination. Law enforcement also says Ali’s ethnic background had nothing to do with the decision to detain him and his family.
Both the bank and the Wichita Police Department say they’ve apologized to Ali.
The family, however, feels it still hasn’t received a satisfactory explanation of why the events occurred, Muslim Advocates said in a statement released earlier this week.