Food Court Dispute Led to Controversial Arrest

by Raymond Drumsta

ALBANY, N.Y. — The arrest of a Buffalo teenager that sparked a campus protest began with a fracas over missing bacon here on Nov. 5, according to court documents.

Ali Mohamed Sanoh (photo courtesy of the New York State University Police at Albany)

Ali Mohamed Sanoh, angry that food-service workers had neglected to put bacon on a hamburger he’d purchased in the University of Albany Campus Center, allegedly threatened a food court employee and then committed other crimes before University police arrested him, the documents said.

University police arrested Sanoh for more alleged crimes two times the following day, but he escaped through the open window of a locked University police vehicle and fled campus, according to Aran Mull, the assistant chief of the New York State University Police at Albany. Sanoh somehow freed himself from the handcuffs, which officers found later, he explained.

Albany City Court issued a warrant for Sanoh’s arrest when he failed to show up for his felony arraingment on Nov. 20, officials said. Sanoh, who is not a University of Albany student, also has outstanding warrants issued from jurisdictions in the New York City and Miami areas, Mull said.

A video of Sanoh’s first arrest inspired a campus protest concerning allegations of racism and police brutality on campus, according to the Albany Student Press (ASP), the student newspaper.

University police have finished their review of the incident, and they’ll release their results when the Independent Review Committee releases its results, Mull said. Incidents involving the use of force or student complaints are always subject to these types of review, he added.

Curse-laden Complaint, Threats and First Arrest

Sometime after 11:30 p.m. on Nov. 5, a female campus employee heard Sanoh cursing in the Campus Center food court, according to her court deposition.

“I pay 50 f_____g dollars for my food and they can’t put bacon on the burger,” Sanoh said, according to the employee. “Who the f__k are you, I am not talking to you,” Sanoh responded when the employee asked him what was wrong.

When she tried to find out if Sanoh had ordered the bacon on the side, he repeated his complaint, cursed some more and uttered a racial slur, the documents said.

“I pay 50 f_____g dollar for the food, I want ya’ll to put the bacon on for me,” the employee recalled. “F__k you, you f_____g n___a, I don’t give a f__k,” Sanoh responded when the employee continued trying to assist him.

“You don’t have to be disrespectful, all I was asking is what’s wrong,” the employee told Sanoh, to which he replied, “I can say whatever the f__k I want, who going to do something about it,” according to the employee. “Anyone over the counter have something to say can meet me outside, all of you guys can get it.”

Sanoh then tried to approach the employee, but the students in line blocked him and asked if “he’s really going to fight a lady,” the employee recalled.

“At that time, I felt he was going to hit me,” the employee stated. His friends apologized and asked him to stop, but sometime later he returned, said “ya’ll need to ask about me since I was a baby,” and knocked a cone over, she added.

Campus police responded to the incident and were interviewing the victim when Sanoh approached them, Mull said. The officers asked Sanoh to identify himself and he continually gave them the false name of “Ronald Barry,” according to Mull and court documents.

A native of the Bronx, Sanoh lives on Barry Place in Buffalo, the documents said.

“It’s a crime to lie about your name,” Officer Hans Haugen told Sanoh, according to the documents. “Is this definitely your name?”

“Yes,” Sanoh replied.

There were about seven to eight people with Sanoh, so the officers called for backup, Mull said. After their backup arrived, the officers then began to place Sanoh under arrest.

However, Sanoh resisted arrest by refusing to place his hands behind his back, trying to walk away and tensing his arms, according to court papers. After the officers placed Sanoh on the ground, he continued to tense his arms and refuse to put his hands behind his back.

But the officers succeeded in handcuffing Sanoh and then stood him up, Mull said. The arrest took less than 60 seconds, he added.

It was just after midnight when officers transported Sanoh to the police booking room. But while in the car, Sanoh fished half of a Xanax pill from his pocket and dropped it on the floor of the police vehicle in order to hide it from the officers, court documents said.

Later on in the booking room, police found three grams of marijuana and two Xanax pills on Sanoh, court papers said. In addition to resisting arrest, campus police charged Sanoh with third-degree menacing, destroying physical evidence, seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, and false personation.

The destroying physical evidence charge is a Class E felony, while the other charges are misdemeanors. He was arraigned in Albany City Court on the morning of Nov. 6 and released, Mull said.

Additional Arrests and Escape

But at about 8:20 a.m. that day, an officer on patrol spotted Sanoh in the Liberty Terrace residence hall, Mull said. A female student then complained to the officer that Sanoh had pushed her out of the way to enter the building, he added.

Officers arrested Sanoh for the second time and charged him with criminal trespassing and harassment, Mull said. After his arraignment in Albany City Court, officers informed Sanoh that his right to remain on campus had been revoked, released him and gave him a ride off campus, he explained.

At about 2:30 p.m. that day, students living in Colonial Quad called police to complain that Sanoh and his friends were “camping out” in their room and making them feel uncomfortable, Mull said.

An officer arrested Sanoh, handcuffed his hands behind his back and placed him in the back of the police vehicle, Mull said. The officer opened the window part way so that he could speak with Sanoh, and so Sanoh could tell his friends where they could pick him up after he was processed for another criminal trespassing charge, he explained.

Meanwhile, a police lieutenant had arrived on scene to speak with Sanoh’s friends and issue them a “persona non-grata letter” informing them that they weren’t allowed on campus, Mull said. When it appeared that Sanoh’s friends were escalating into a confrontation with the lieutenant, the officer went over to assist, and Sanho escaped through the vehicle window, he explained.

They recovered the handcuffs near the school of business, about 200 yards away from the police vehicle, Mull said.

“He did get out of the handcuffs, eventually,” Mull said. Sanoh’s other outstanding warrants may explain why he didn’t want to identify himself, he added.

According to University Police, Sanoh is 19 years old, about 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighs 140 pounds. Police are asking that anyone with information about Sanoh’s whereabouts, or his intended or actual return to campus contact them at 518–442–3131.