One of two black ISU football players settles lawsuit against police in Idaho
One of two black members of the 2016 Idaho State University football team involved in a civil rights lawsuit is no longer suing an Idaho law enforcement agency and some of its employees for illegal detainment and false arrest after agreeing to settle the matter outside of court.
Atotasia Fox agreed last month to dismiss his claims against Oneida County, its sheriff’s office and several law enforcement officials in their individual capacities after reaching a settlement of “nuisance value only,” according to Idaho Falls attorney Sam Angell, who represents Oneida County and the other Idaho defendants listed in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in December 2018.
Angell told the Journal during a Thursday phone interview that Fox agreed to drop his claims against Oneida County for a very small amount of money, though he could not comment on specifics of the settlement as it is subject to a non-disclosure agreement.
Fox has yet to settle his claims against police in Box Elder County, Utah, and it remains unclear whether he will continue to pursue the claims.
The lawsuit stems from a 2016 incident that involved Fox and co-plaintiff Nehemiah McFarlin, both age 18 at the time. Both men claim they were detained, arrested and then threatened for more than 24 hours while in police custody in Utah’s Box Elder County, the suit said.
McFarlin has not settled any portion of his case, though Angell has filed motions calling for a dismissal of all claims levied against Oneida. Attorneys representing Box Elder County has done the same.
“We believe the claims are baseless and we are in the process of filing a motion to dismiss all claims against Oneida,” Angell told the Journal on Thursday, the same day the court received the motion.
Bron Rammell, the Pocatello attorney representing Fox and McFarlin, said he was discouraged when Fox agreed to settle the case, as he believes both men could have made great arguments during trial.
“I believe that when the facts come out it will be clear that the only reason these individuals were arrested and detained was because the color of their skin,” Rammell said. “I believe that it is important for the purposes of the benefit of society to pursue this as aggressively as we can.”
According to the civil complaint, Fox and McFarlin were arrested after police accused them of robbing a Malad bank on Dec. 14, 2016. The pair’s arrest happened after a resident of Malad called dispatch and linked the vehicle Fox and McFarlin were riding in to the robbery.
“Other than being ‘black,’ neither McFarlin nor Fox matched the description of the robbery participant,” the suit said.
In response to the suit, lawyers representing Oneida County and Box Elder County in northern Utah contended it was an unfortunate case of mistaken identity and the officers involved acted in good faith. Lawyers called on the judge handling the case, Dale A. Kimball, to dismiss the suit in January.
At the time of filing, McFarlin and Fox were seeking at least $10,000 in damages. In addition to both Oneida and Box Elder counties and their respective sheriff’s offices, the suit lists 18 individual members of law enforcement in Idaho and Utah, including former Oneida County Sheriff Jeff Semrad and Oneida County Detective Patsy Sherman.
The Oneida County Sheriff’s Office had broadcast to other law enforcement and local media around 3 p.m. Dec. 14, 2016, that an armed robbery had occurred at the Malad US Bank and described the suspect as a black male in his early 20s wearing a hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses.
Furthermore, the suspect was described as driving a four-door Toyota with “extreme front end damage, no hub caps ... a temporary (registration) sticker and no window tinting,” according to a news statement that Semrad issued around 4 p.m. that day.
McFarlin was driving his brand new 2017 Chevy Camaro and Fox was riding as a passenger in the vehicle when McFarlin hit a slick section of road, lost control of the vehicle and struck a divider in the median of Interstate 15 between Malad and the Portage, Utah, exit in Box Elder County.
After pulling over to assess the damage, the pair continued on their journey until they heard loud scraping sounds coming from the undercarriage of the car and decided to pull over on a road off the Portage exit and call AAA for assistance, according to the suit.
Guns drawn, two Utah Highway Patrol troopers arrived while McFarlin and Fox were waiting for AAA and ordered the men out of the car, searched them, handcuffed them and placed them under arrest, the suit said.
The suit claims that not only were McFarlin and Fox nowhere near the Malad area when the bank was robbed, but the pair also offered alibi information, including their calls to AAA, that would demonstrate the pair could not have been involved in the robbery. Police did not uncover any evidence linking the pair to the robbery.
Dakota Shareef Walker, the then-20-year-old black man from Topeka, Kansas, who did rob the US Bank in Malad — along with four other US banks in four different states, and a Wells Fargo in Preston — was federally indicted on the first of those five robberies less than a month after McFarlin and Fox were accused and held by police.
Walker pleaded guilty to the five bank robberies in January 2018. He was sentenced to serve 6.5 years in federal prison in August and ordered to pay over $24,000 in fines and restitution.
When Walker robbed the Malad Bank, the suit stated that McFarlin and Fox had just finished a semester of school at ISU and were on their way home to enjoy the holidays with their families.
McFarlin remains a member of the ISU football team and Fox’s last season with the Bengals was in 2017, according to Steven Schaack, ISU deputy athletics director.