VIP bodyguard sentenced to 1 year in Dubai jail for “doing his job”
A Miami personal protection professional has been sentenced to one year in Dubai jail for protecting his client against an aggressive Jordanian man’s advances.
40 year old Cornell Whitfield is a devoted father to his 2 year old boy “Champ”. He lives in Miami and coaches Little League. His cousin, Serena, describes him as “the sweetest, most caring man who takes his job seriously”.
Whitfield has been in the personal security field for two decades, working with leading celebrities like Lil’ Kim “Queen Bee”, DreamDoll, TreySongz, Justin Dior Combs, Deebo Samuels, Quavo and footballer Trevon Diggs.
Whitfield’s career developed through his professionalism and strong work ethic to the point where he is in high demand by top celebrities seeking protection. He frequently visited Dubai with his clients and promoted it as a tour destination to his celeb friends, until now. On the 9’th of March 2023, Whitfield was assigned to Trey Songz’s security team. They were leaving the FIVE Palm Jumeirah hotel, heading out to a club when a Jordanian man approached Trey Songz, waving his arms around, swearing and acting aggressively. Whitfield put himself between his client and the man, telling him to calm down and back off but the man only escalated his behaviour. Whitfield slapped him lightly on the cheek to jolt him out of his erratic and threatening behaviour. The assailant, who Whitfield perceived was under influence of drugs or alcohol, stopped his behaviour and retreated.
The security team went home to the US and thought nothing more of the minor incident but when Whitfield returned to Dubai on the 31st of August 2023, he was arrested for “assault”. The Jordanian had made a criminal complaint to the police. Even where the police wouldn't pursue a case themselves, they will act on behalf of the complainant if requested. Whitfield was hauled in before the head prosecutor where he explained exactly what happened and invited police to review the CCTV evidence. Whitfield had the CCTV on his side as well as multiple witnesses but the police didn’t seem to care.
“Mr Whitfield could have made his own complaint against the Jordanian”, says Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai who is advocating for Mr Whitfield’s release. “Police will usually prosecute whoevers complaint arrives on their desk first, but Americans are not the types who will run off to the police with every little issue. This is where they can be taken advantage of”.
US $60,000 payment demand
Whitfield was interviewed by the prosecutor alongside his accuser. He was stunned when the accuser demanded almost US$60,000 to drop the case. “Unfortunately, requests for fiscal payments to drop criminal cases are commonplace in the United Arab Emirates”, explains Stirling. “It’s a real problem because for many it has become a business to provoke victims or to fabricate accusations for the sole purpose of monetary compensation.”
“It’s ludicrous that the accuser in this case has demanded $60,000 after forcing Whitfield to defend his client. For many people struggling in the world, provoking a slap that results in a $60k payout would be tempting. In Dubai, this kind of thing happens when all the time. Whether it’s a rental car agency, a taxi driver, airport staff or a random accuser like in this case, the possibility of a payout is a strong incentive to open a criminal case.”
Unlike some other Americans who recently paid $20k to their accusers to drop a falsified case, Whitfield was unable to pay the demand and was sentenced by the courts to 1 year in prison. The judicial system in the UAE is swayed towards Gulf and Arab citizens, with judges being mostly Jordanians or Egyptian. Police, prosecutors and judges are notoriously racist against individuals of Asian and African descent, regardless of their citizenship.
UAE prisons are notorious for human rights abuses. Most Western countries will not extradite citizens to the UAE based on the “real risk of human rights violations and torture”. Lee Bradley Brown was killed in police custody while British grandfather Albert Douglas was beaten by guards so severely that he suffered multiple broken bones and head injuries.
Whitfield has appealed the sentence, hoping to be able to get home to his two year old son. “His family have been so worried about Mr Whitfield being alone in the Middle East”, confirms Stirling after speaking with his cousin and mother. “It’s unbearable for them to imagine him locked up in a desert jail. They know he doesn’t deserve it. They haven’t been able to sleep.”
“The US Embassy has not been of any help”, Whitfield told Stirling in a phone call. Stirling has dealt with foreign and consular services from most countries over the years. She says this experience is common, “It’s common for Embassies to tell their citizens to simply hire a lawyer. In cases of injustice though, Embassies need to take a more proactive approach towards ensuring the safety of their citizens. After the cases of Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos and Tierra Allen, our organisation has made recommendations to the US State Department to increase their travel warnings to citizens. It’s noteworthy that the Israeli Embassy has been the most effective at ensuring the protection of their citizens in Dubai despite being the newest embassy. I believe the US and UK should top that.
“Unfortunately, most governments prefer to focus on trade and security deals through the Embassy, rather than the needs of individuals. We have approached Mr Whitfield’s Congressional representative, Frederica Wilson, to seek her support.
“Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Congressman Ritchie Torres both strongly supported their constituents (Tierra Allen and Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos) and we hope the Florida reps will step up for Mr Whitfield too”.
US citizen and military veteran Robert Dobbs, has been stuck in Dubai for several years and very outspoken about the Embassy’s lack of support. Robert’s employer, Providence English Private School made a financial claim against him but he was not informed of proceedings so a judgement was issued in absentia. When he discovered the judgement in absentia, it was too late to appeal it. He has now been arrested almost thirty times as a result. In a clear case of injustice, it’s so important to have diplomatic support. Dobbs now fears he will die in the UAE and will never be able to see his family again.
Should celebrities go to Dubai?
“Lil’ Kim is devastated that I’m going through this”, relays Whitfield to Stirling. Systemic judicial abuse is of serious ongoing concern. Even where visitors obey the letter of the law, they can still be vulnerable to false and spiteful allegations, extortion and compensation schemes as well as discriminatory and unfair trials.
“Celebrities need to think again when they consider promoting a place like Dubai. Numerous social media influencers like Tierra Allen and TV stars like Kaz Crossley Selina Waterman-Smith have found themselves at risk of imprisonment. Stars may be more likely to avoid a prison sentence than an average person, but they need to consider whether it’s right to promote a country with egregious human rights violations with a strong history of prejudice against sex, race and gender. It’s ironic that certain celebrities who are so outspoken about LGBT rights would fully promote a country where the death sentence still exists.
Given the endless high profile abuses coming out of Dubai, celebrities should hold off until the Emirates overhaul the justice system and ensure that visitors are safe from abuse.
Americans in Dubai
According to Detained in Dubai, arrests of Americans appear to have increased with Stirling stating “the cases reported in the media only represent a fraction of arrests. We’ve seen Florida man, Peter Clark, who was arrested for cannabis residue in his bloodstream that he had consumed legally from Nevada weeks before he even flew to Dubai. Danielle Jeffries from Miami was held on a wrongful business administration case, while Tierra Allen was accused of verbal abuse by a rental car agency looking to extort her. Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos was held for months after being wrongfully accused of assault during a 6 hour layover. Elizabeth had in fact been the victim of mistreatment by customs officers who humiliated and mistreated her. It ended up costing her more than $50,000.
What will happen to Cornell Whitfield?
Whitfield’s lawyer has filed an appeal and request for his bail to continue during proceedings. However, Whitfield could be detained at any moment and forced to serve his sentence. Whitfield’s case raises the question, “can you defend yourself in Dubai?” Over the past decade, we have seen rape victims jailed for “sex outside marriage”, road rage victims jailed because of preemptive police reports by the actual perpetrators, was assault victims jailed for “offensive behaviour” or “assault” themselves. Justice is available on a first come first serve basis, even where the accused is the victim. There is a culture of provocation leaving the judicial process open to abuse by vindictive or extortive locals who are familiar with local legal flaws. While this culture and process remains active, visitors are at serious risk of being jailed in the UAE.
“We hope the police and judges will review the CCTV evidence and witness statements, understand that Whitfield was defending his client and allow him to travel home without incarceration”, says Stirling. “Until then, we recommend celebrities call out Dubai for these repeated cases of injustice”.
Radha Stirling CEO at Detained in Dubai
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Detained in Dubai: http://www.detainedindubai.org
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