Boston – In late 2015, a homeless man named Emory Ellis was jailed after he tried to make a purchase at a local Burger King. He approached the counter and attempted to buy breakfast with a $10 bill. The cashier thought the currency looked fake, and called police. Instead of verifying whether or not the money was fake, police apparently assumed it was, and arrested Ellis.
Because Ellis was on probation, the arrest violated the terms of his release and he was booked back into jail where he spent the next three months. It took that long before prosecutors realized the money was actually real and ordered his release in early 2016. Now Ellis is suing Burger King for discriminating against him based on his external appearances.
Ellis' attorney, Justin Drechsler, said he believes Ellis was discriminated against because he is a poor Black man, and he insisted that a rich White man would never have endured such humiliation.
"A person like me would've gotten an apology, but a person like Emory somehow finds his way in handcuffs for trying to pay for his breakfast with real money," Drechsler said.
According to a report from SFGate, Ellis' misery did not end after he was refused breakfast and arrested:
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Ellis was arrested in November 2015 and charged with forgery of a bank note. His arrest triggered a probation violation and he was held without bail until his final probation violation hearing, according to the lawsuit. He wasn't released from jail until February 2016, when prosecutors dropped the forgery charge after the Secret Service concluded Ellis' bill was real, the lawsuit says.
Ellis is now seeking $950,000 in damages from Burger King, which told the press it will not tolerate discrimination of any kind. The 37-year-old man would likely still be in jail had the Secret Service not confirmed the currency's legitimacy. His lawyer said it is a travesty of justice. "Nobody deserves to be treated the way that Emory was treated," Drechsler said.
Ellis' story highlights several talking points demonstrating precisely what is wrong with modern day policing, the judicial system in the United States, and the way society treats the homeless.
Any cashier or law enforcement officer worth his weight in salt could have quickly visited the federal reserve's website on how to determine if a currency is fake. That didn't happen. Equally disturbing is the fact the man was held without bail. Ellis, being homeless, should have been allowed to go to his street corner and wait for a full investigation to have been completed before being arrested, especially since it was not conclusive that the bill was not counterfeit. But most disturbing of the allegations is the fact Ellis was left imprisoned a full three months before authorities learned what they could have discovered on the spot.
The bill was real, a man was arrested, his probation was violated, and he was forced to spend a quarter of a year before anyone seemed to care. Ellis is not alone. Thousands of Americans have been accused of crimes, arrested, and jailed, without a speedy trial.
As The Free Thought Project has reported, Americans who are homeless routinely face abuse from police, and they are often targeted, harassed and even arrested simply because of their homeless status. The system is broken and must be fixed.