JACKSON – A federal lawsuit was filed today by Hizam Yehia, an Arab American corrections officer at a Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) prison in Jackson, who claims he suffered years of racial abuse at the hands of fellow officers and administration.
Detroit attorney Jonathan R. Marko, of Marko Law, told The Arab American News that the case was filed in the Eastern Michigan District Court. He has said in a statement that the case is “one of the worst cases of discrimination I have ever seen recently. And what makes this more egregious, is that it is going on our own government.”
The filed complaint shows that the defendants named in the case are both the MDOC and Frank Sawyer, a captain at the Parnall Correctional Facility in Jackson, who was himself actively involved in the egregious racist behavior.
Yehia began working at the prison in March of 2015. According to the complaint, he had since been subjected to a culture of widespread racism, perpetrated by co-workers, supervisors and other individuals employed by the MDOC.
Officers and prison staff often told Yehia how much they hated Arabs, accused him of selling bomb parts on Amazon and insulted his wife.
The complaint provides a long list of the abuses. The prison staff made “unwelcome comments, innuendos and jokes about Yehia’s national origin, his religion and his weight.”
He was told by officers that the facility was “not the Middle East – we have rules here” while standing in line to clock in for work, while other officers laughed at him.
The shift commander, Captain Sawyer, constantly made comments to Yehia regarding his national origin and religion, including telling Yehia that he would never go to the Middle East because they “beat their women”, “fu** goats”, “blow [themselves] up” and the women cover their faces like “ninjas.”
On one occasion, Officer Amy Bungart told another officer, Officer McDonald, pointing to Yehia’s facility issued AR-15, “…They let him have that thing? I wonder if they checked him for it. He might do something crazy with it.”
Officers would constantly accuse Yehia of wearing bomb vests, having connections with ISIS and would make derogatory comments about his Middle Eastern background in general.
They often told Yehia how much they hated Arabs, accused him of selling bomb parts on Amazon and insulted his wife. Employees are also accused of putting pork in the Muslim American’s food and watching him eat it.
Yehia filed reports with MDOC’s Discriminatory Harassment Department. However, his complaints were not thoroughly investigated. The federal complaint says that none of the perpetrators have been disciplined and continue to be employed at the facility.
Marko said the behavior forced Yehia to leave his employment and subsequently move out of state. They filed the federal case after Yehia exhausted his remedies with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The complaint claims that as a direct and proximate result of the MDOC employees’ actions, Yehia has suffered and continues to suffer damages and injuries, including but not limited to stress, humiliation, non-economic, economic and emotional damages.
Yehia could not be reached for comment. The lawsuit alleges violations of his constitutional rights and of state law and seeks an undisclosed sum.