US bodyguard sentenced to prison in Dubai over fan ‘slap’ appeals for help

The family of a Miami bodyguard who was sentenced to prison in Dubai after stepping in to prevent a fan reaching the R&B singer Trey Songz is appealing for help.

Cornell Whitfield received the punishment after being accused of slapping a Jordanian man as they left the luxury Five Palm Jumeirah hotel in March. That is according to the group Detained in Dubai, which provides legal assistance to foreigners in the United Arab Emirates.

Whitfield, 40, has been a bodyguard to stars such as Lil’ Kim, the Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs and San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel. Whitfield said he was “doing his job” when he put himself between the singer, whose real name is Tremaine Neverson, and the man, who Whitfield’s lawyers, through Detained in Dubai, accuse of being “drunk and acting in a threatening and aggressive way”.

The man reportedly demanded $60,000 to drop the allegation. Whitfield, the group said, had assumed the Dubai court system would acquit him because he said he was acting in self-defense and had exercised restraint.

“He was just doing his job and never expected the man would make a complaint considering it was him who was acting that way,” Whitfield’s cousin, Sarena George, told Detained in Dubai.

George cited evidence from hotel security, surveillance video and witnesses.

But when Whitfield returned to Dubai in August, he was arrested and sentenced to a year in prison.

“If a bodyguard can be jailed for protecting his client, should celebrities really be supporting Dubai?” wrote the advocate and lawyer Radha Stirling, the chief executive officer of Detained in Dubai.

Stirling added: “Foreigners are seen as prey by locals who know they will pay large sums of money to have frivolous or false cases dropped. Locals have turned Dubai’s police force into an extortion tool making it extremely risky for tourists.”

The Jenga-shaped Five Palm Jumeira hotel has become a popular destination for US stars. Beyoncé was paid a reported $24m to perform an hour-long concert there earlier this year. She faced criticism for performing in a country with restrictive laws on gender and sexual rights.

Whitfield has accrued more than $35,000 in legal debt. His family has contacted his Florida congresswoman Frederica Wilson as well as the US state department for help.

His mother, Marysia Whitfield, said: “We are really hoping the judge at least overturns the custodial sentence.”

She said: “It’s one thing if he committed a genuine crime, but he was just doing his job. He didn’t ask for any trouble.”

The accusations against Whitfield, and the subsequent demand for money, appear to mirror the experience of 21-year-old US student Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos, who was given a 12-month jail sentence for tapping an airport security guard for help.

Polanco, a business arts major at Lehman College in the Bronx, was reportedly moving through Dubai airport when airport customs officers told her to take off a waist compression device she was wearing after having surgery.

Polanco said she tapped one of the women on the arm to ask for help putting the device back on. Customs officers alleged Polanco had been “assaulting and insulting”. She was later temporarily prevented from leaving the country after customs staff appealed against the supposed leniency of a court-imposed $2,772 fine.

Polanco was released in October after the US embassy in Dubai and the US congressman Ritchie Torres got involved, Detained in Dubai said.

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