Two Idaho State University football players were driving through Box Elder County, headed home to California on Christmas break 2016, when Utah police arrested and jailed them on accusations of bank robbery.
Nehemiah McFarlin and Atoa Fox spent that night and most of the next day in the Box Elder County Jail in Brigham City until they were freed.
“Other than being ‘black,’ neither McFarlin nor Fox matched the description of the robbery participant,” attorneys for the two said in a U.S. District Court suit filed Wednesday alleging false arrest, illegal search and seizure and excessive force.
Three weeks later, a 20-year-old Ogden man, also an African American, was arrested by the FBI for a spree of bank robberies in Idaho and others states — including the Dec. 14, 2016, holdup of the U.S. Bank in Malad.
The two Idaho State students, both 18, were in McFarlin’s 2017 Chevy Camaro. They had pulled off Interstate 15 near Portage to await AAA help. The car had slid off the icy road and had damage to the front end, the suit said.
The suit alleged that another driver called Box Elder sheriff’s dispatch to report a white car was off the road and two black males were in the car.
Two Utah Highway Patrol troopers arrived, and with guns drawn, ordered the two out of the car, handcuffed them and said they were under arrest for robbing the Malad bank earlier that day, the suit said.
The Oneida County Sheriff’s Office in Idaho had broadcast that the suspect was described as a black male, driving a four-door white Toyota passenger car with no window tinting, three missing hubcaps, no license plate and front-end damage.
The suspect was described as wearing a hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses.
Fox and McFarlin offered alibi information demonstrating they could not have robbed the bank, the suit said.
“The defendants ignored obvious and compelling information and evidence and participated in conjuring up information and evidence that was inaccurate, unreliable, untrustworthy and untrue in order to continue their arrest and seizure of McFarlin and Fox,” the suit said.
The suit alleged the men were threatened and treated with excessive force during the handcuffing and their incarceration.
Police searched the Camaro and had it towed away.
Oneida County deputies showed photographs of Fox and McFarlin to two US Bank tellers and asked them to identify either one as the robber, the suit said.
“The procedure used, to show plaintiffs’ photographs to potential witnesses, was conducive to an irreparable mistaken identification,” according to the suit.
The Oneida County Sheriff’s Office finally decided there was no probable cause to hold the men and asked Box Elder to release them, according to the suit, which seeks at least $10,000 in damages.
Federal court records show Dakota Shareef Walker was arrested at his Ogden home Jan. 10, 2017, by the FBI and Ogden police.
Walker was indicted separately by federal authorities in Kansas, Wyoming and Idaho.
He pleaded guilty Jan. 20, 2018, to the Malad robbery, plus similar bank holdups in Preston, Idaho; Evanston, Wyoming; Topeka, Kansas; and Kansas City, Missouri, between Nov. 23, 2016, and Jan. 9, 2017.
A Kansas federal judge on Aug. 29 this year sentenced Walker to 7½ years in prison and ordered him to pay $7,700 in restitution.
Court records said $29,435 was taken in the robberies.
The civil suit by McFarlin and Fox names as defendants Box Elder and Oneida counties and at least a dozen officers with those agencies and the UHP.
Dale Ward, Box Elder chief deputy sheriff, said by email Friday that he had no immediate comment on the case.
Reached at his Orem office, Daniel Steele, the attorney representing Fox and McFarlin, said he had no further comment.
McFarlin remains a member of the Bengals football team at Pocatello, said Steven Schaack, Idaho State deputy athletics director. He said Fox is no longer in the football program.
According to the athletic department’s website, Fox and McFarlin both played during the 2016 season leading up to their trip home after the fall semester.