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The Thing That Won't Leave

Emmanuel Agyeman
Peter Scanlon

In February 1997, self-styled businessman Emmanuel Agyeman boarded a bus in Carson City, Nevada.

His destination was the central Arizona town of Eloy, which sits between Phoenix and Tucson. It was Agyeman's first visit to the Grand Canyon State, but it was hardly a vacation.

Earlier, immigration authorities had picked up the native of Ghana for overstaying his visa by several years. The bus was owned and operated by the United States government, specifically by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Though he'd married an American citizen in 1991, Agyeman, then 42, never had completed steps to win a coveted green card. The card guarantees its holder permanent residency status.

Most important, Agyeman and his wife, Barbara Levy, had failed to show for a 1992 interview with an INS officer. He later claimed Levy had been unable to attend because she'd been hospitalized after an acute episode of mental illness.

Unmoved, the government in late 1992 had ordered Agyeman -- his visa long had expired by then -- to leave the country within 30 days.

Instead, he moved alone from New Jersey to Nevada, where he says he later started an import-export business.

Agyeman says he spoke often with Levy after leaving, but he admits he never saw her again after settling in Nevada -- where, incidentally, he had some run-ins with police, including two drunken-driving convictions and a bad-check rap.

When the government finally caught up to Agyeman, it moved him to the Eloy Detention Center for incarceration and legal processing. The 1,500-bed prison for immigrants is run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a company that contracts with governmental agencies nationwide.

It seemed virtually certain that U.S. authorities would soon be shipping Agyeman back to Ghana or to England, where he'd spent much of his life as the son of a well-to-do accountant.

But the monumental deportation war known as The United States of America v. Emmanuel Senyo Agyeman has yet to be decided -- more than eight years after Agyeman's 1997 detention and more than 13 years after the feds first ordered his expulsion.

Agyeman was incarcerated for more than seven of those years, which gives him the dubious distinction of being one of the nation's longest-held detainees. Like Tom Hanks' memorable character in last year's movie The Terminal, he's been stuck in immigration hell, a bewildering world of arcane laws, regulations, policies and court rulings.

In Agyeman's case, a bevy of Stanley Tucci-like government officials (Tucci played the tightly wound Homeland Security official in The Terminal) has devoted year after year to ridding the nation -- and themselves -- of him.

But Agyeman is a far more difficult study than the likable, cheery and truly innocent Hanks character, Viktor Navorski.

To call Agyeman litigious is an understatement.

To call him a model prisoner is just wrong.

Most officials he's come into contact with consider Agyeman a pesky little gnat who just won't go away. You might say he's a biting fly.

Because of his incessant clashes with authorities, he spent much of his incarceration in solitary confinement. Then, last November, he was placed in a supervised release program.

Since first detaining Agyeman in 1997, the government has spent untold thousands of dollars and countless hours trying to deport him.

But Agyeman is still here, and probably isn't leaving any time soon.

Indeed, he seems to have found his life's purpose in battling the U.S. government and its assorted minions.

And, surprisingly, he's twice beaten them in the big-time arena known as the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Agyeman won two separate court appeals in recent years, one against the feds and the other against the CCA prison firm. Both cases were heard by the 9th Circuit Court, which is one step below the U.S. Supreme Court.

In July 2002, the court voted 2-1 to remand Agyeman's case to Immigration Court. It was five years after a judge in Eloy had ordered his deportation.

The loss was stunning for the United States, and it made Agyeman famous in immigration law circles.

Seattle corporate attorney Leonard Feldman, who worked on that case pro bono for Agyeman, wrote in a Washington State Bar Association journal, "Besides being favorable to Mr. Agyeman, the court's opinion is often cited in cases involving important due-process principles."

Sounds compelling, and it is . . . as far as it goes.

At first blush, Emmanuel Agyeman appears to be a terribly sympathetic character whose life has been engulfed and ruined by the vagaries of immigration law.

For unlike most of his fellow prisoners, he originally wasn't even charged with a deportable criminal offense such as selling drugs, burglary or committing a violent crime.  

Officially, Agyeman just overstayed his visa.

But definitive statements about Agyeman are not well-advised. His autobiography turns out to be shrouded in mystery, half-truths and outright lies.

In fact, because government lawyers failed to do their homework, one pivotal lie would serve Agyeman very well in his mercurial deportation case.

From the start of that case in 1997, he claimed he'd married Barbara Levy for love, not just for a green card as the spouse of a U.S. citizen.

Agyeman also testified that he still was married to her.

For example, as recently as December 6, 2002, immigration Judge John W. Davis asked him during a hearing, "Are you still married?"

"Yes," Agyeman replied, under oath.

"Very well. Your wife has not instituted divorce proceedings?"

"No."

But she had, back in 1993, just two years after they married.

Apparently, no one involved in Agyeman's case -- other than Agyeman himself -- knew about the divorce. (New Times discovered it while reporting this story.)

"I may have known about it or suspected it," Agyeman said after being asked about his split-up. "But that doesn't matter. What's important is that we planned to be together when we got married. What happened afterward means nothing to my case."

But immigration attorneys familiar with the deportation case say the 9th Circuit Court surely would have been far less sympathetic to Agyeman had it known of the divorce.

Even Agyeman's supporters seemed shocked at news of his divorce.

"Wow!" says Palo Alto, California, attorney Chris Durbin, who also volunteered his services to Agyeman's cause while attending the University of Washington School of Law.

"I thought it was a complex case when we took it on, but it sounds like it's taken on several new layers of complexity. So he was divorced all that time? Wow!"


A slight, bespectacled black man sifts through boxes of legal materials that he's stashed in a friend's garage.

Emmanuel Agyeman finally finds what he's looking for, and allows himself a small smile. Armed with the thicket of documents he's recovered, he retreats to the living room to tell his story.

Since his release last November, he's been fighting his myriad legal battles from the comfort of the friend's north Phoenix home.

"I did not come to this country for economic opportunity like so many people do," he says. "I could have cut my losses and let them kick me out of here. But I'm fighting because they never fight me honest. Sometimes I think that I'm not coming out of this alive."

Agyeman speaks slowly, carefully and articulately -- in an accent that's a hybrid of British and an African dialect.

He sometimes refers to himself in the third person: "The government decided that Agyeman was not to their liking."

It's hard to reconcile this pleasant, soft-spoken man with the volatile character constantly at war with prison officials over everything.

One of his sisters, Vivian Simon, says he's always been tough to read.

"Emmanuel is very quiet most of the time, but he can get angry when he thinks people are taking advantage of him," says Simon, a nurse in Vancouver, British Columbia.

"He's a very good brother, but he can be stubborn. He didn't tell me for years that he was locked up in Arizona for immigration. I don't know why he just wouldn't let them send him home. Our family has some money. It wouldn't be hard for him in Ghana."

The oldest of five children, Emmanuel Agyeman was born in Ghana's capital city of Accra. His father was a top accountant for a large firm, and his mother taught at a Presbyterian mission school.

"There isn't a middle class in Ghana, so I guess you can say we were rich," Agyeman says. "It's not like I was a Mexican guy who had to run up to the States to make a dollar."

Agyeman says he lived mostly in England from the age of 5, after his father's job took him there. He says his parents were strict, insisting on academic success.

Since his youth, Agyeman says, he's been fascinated with American history and culture.

"I always was a big fan of the United States of America," he says. "No nation is perfect, but I always have loved America. I can tell you about the presidents, about Watergate and so forth."

Agyeman says he once envisioned a career in politics in Ghana, but that changed after he became disillusioned "with the disgraceful corruption in Ghana's government."

He tells New Times, and he testified at his two deportation hearings, that he earned bachelor's and master's degrees from the prestigious London School of Economics.  

"Master's in science," Agyeman testified in 1997. "The science being economics."

But Larissa Leech, an LSE senior registry assistant, wrote in an e-mail to New Times: "We unfortunately have no record of Mr. Agyeman in our database."

Two of Agyeman's sisters say separately that, to their knowledge, he didn't attend the famed institution.

"No," says Peace Agyeman, who works as a registered nurse in Virginia. "I know he went to school in Belgium and Holland, but London? Why do you ask?"

Emmanuel Agyeman insists that he did earn his diplomas from the London School of Economics in the late 1970s, though he can't provide evidence of his matriculation.

After college, he says, he took a job for several years as an economist with a firm based in Brussels, Belgium. He says he bought a home there and lived a middle-class existence in the 1980s until he moved to the States.

In the late '80s, Agyeman says, he first met Barbara Levy at a cultural center in Brussels.

"There was a library at the center for Americans," he says. "Barbara was there, and we noticed each other. It was interesting for me to meet an American. She visited my place, and we kept talking. She was very bright, which is what I liked about her. We exchanged addresses and wrote to each other after she went home."

Agyeman continues, "We were very close, and we'd discussed marriage at the beginning. I didn't think about immigrating at first; then it was decided that she'd come to Europe one year and I'd go to the States for a year. But I found out she wanted to stay close to her parents."

In early 1988, Agyeman flew to America on a two-year visa that allowed him to work or vacation. He says he stayed with Levy in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where he claims she was working as a hospital administrator.

Agyeman says Levy's parents were against the relationship.

"[Levy's father] said I came from the wrong continent," he says, breaking into an unlikely giggle. "The father was a highly trained doctor, and it was surprising that he'd be so narrow-minded about race."

Agyeman says he took to hiding in a closet or slipping out when Levy's parents dropped by. Still, he says, he and Barbara got married in June 1991.

Agyeman's mother attended the small civil ceremony in South Orange, New Jersey, as did his sister Vivian and her husband, who stood in as best man.

None of Levy's family members or friends attended.

It was the first marriage for each.

"Before the wedding, he was so excited, telling me all these things about her," Vivian Simon says. "But I was reluctant to befriend her until after the wedding. You never know what might happen. Her parents didn't approve of the relationship. Emmanuel said they were Jewish."

Barbara Levy's half-brother, Bob Cormack, recalls the era differently.

He says Levy did earn her master's degree in communications and worked for a publication for a time. But a serious car accident in Massachusetts years before Levy met Agyeman left her unable to work full-time.

"She hurt her head badly in that accident, which may have led to her serious mental illness," says Cormack, an attorney in Lakewood, New Jersey. "She really was incapacitated from that point on."

Cormack concedes that his parents (now deceased) strongly disapproved of the relationship between Levy and Agyeman on racial grounds:

"But they also didn't appreciate that the guy was unemployed and living off her. My mom told me Barbara had gotten married and was helping this guy stay in the country. My sister was in and out of hospitals as a patient, not as an administrator. She may have been out of her mind, but I know she didn't go into their 'relationship' expecting to live happily ever after."

One more thing, Cormack says: "My family is Catholic, not Jewish."


In September 1991, Barbara Levy filed for a green card on behalf of Emmanuel Agyeman.

Immigration authorities conditionally approved it in early 1992, and ordered the new couple to appear for a standard interview. Agyeman was instructed to present a medical report after undergoing a physical, also routine.

The main reason for the interview is the government's priority in uncovering "sham marriages," unions designed solely to win green cards for a husband or wife, often for financial gain.

An immigration officer may ask how long a couple has known each other, if they lived together before marriage or currently are together, if they own property together, commingle their financial resources or file joint tax returns.  

The government also may ask personal questions, such as what brand of underwear the spouse wears, or what are his or her favorite foods.

"They'll look for evidence of the man paying the woman, say, so she'll marry him and he can get his card," Agyeman says. "There is no such thing like that in my case. The INS becomes the moral authority on what a marriage should be. That is frightening."

But Levy failed to appear for several interviews, and Agyeman never did show proof that he'd undergone a physical.

"Here's what happened," Agyeman says. "Barbara would be in the bedroom. One night, she sat for hours on the end of the bed in street clothes talking about some devil, about hearing things from antennas. It dawned on me that it had come to something I'd always dreaded. I took her to the hospital. She looked like stone, wouldn't listen to anything. She was complaining about husband abuse, which was untrue. So I got my own place."

As for his physical exam, Agyeman says he underwent one, but never submitted the results because the handwriting was on the wall.

"The INS officer called my mother-in-law, who said the marriage was a fraud," he says. "They gave me 30 days to leave the country. But I didn't want to leave."

Agyeman says he soon hopped a Greyhound bus to Carson City, toting his belongings in a pair of suitcases. He chose Nevada, he says, because he knew that state's incorporation laws are liberal, and he suspected he could live under the radar of immigration authorities after he started an import-export business.

"I promised myself that at some point Barbara could join me," Agyeman says. "It was one way to be far from her parents so we wouldn't have all the trouble we were having. But her life was in New Jersey."

He says his company did reasonably well, importing a variety of products. However, New Times could find no incorporation filings in Nevada under the name he provided -- the General Equity Corporation.

During this time, Agyeman says, Levy was "caught between her family and marriage, and she was aware that her parents would disown her if she moved out with me. But we were always friendly."

Conversely, Levy's half-brother, Bob Cormack, says he and other family members spent a telling vacation week with her in the summer of 1993, a few months after Agyeman left town.

"He never came up in conversation," Cormack says, "and she and my mom definitely would have been talking about it if he had been in her life. He was a non-entity by then."

In October 1993, a judge in Union County, New Jersey, granted Levy's request for a divorce from Agyeman. They'd been married just more than two years. Records show he didn't contest the action.

The judge also entered a $500 judgment against Agyeman "in connection with [his] failure to repay a loan from [Levy] made in September, 1991."

Agyeman says he has no recollection of any such loan.

But his memory of what happened during his 1997 deportation hearing in Eloy dovetails with court transcripts.

Agyeman first told immigration judge William Abbott that he'd been denied a green card only because he hadn't turned over his medical report.

But a government lawyer pointed out that Barbara Levy had failed to attend her interview with the INS, and that her mother had written authorities claiming that the marriage was a fraud.

Abbott quickly ordered Agyeman's deportation.

But Agyeman still could try for a "change of status," the judge informed him, by showing he hadn't committed crimes of moral turpitude, and that deportation would cause his wife extreme hardship.

Abbott then told Agyeman something that later resonated -- negatively -- with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals:

"Your wife must appear and testify and indicate that she still wants to support you or to petition for you as a relative of hers. It is her petition, not really yours. [She] must be present for me to ask questions or the government can cross-examine as to the validity of the marriage and her willingness to basically support your application for residency here."

Abbott gave Agyeman one month to sort things out. Then, he said, "We'll pick a day on which you need to contact your wife and say, 'Honey, come on out here. You need to testify.'"

Two months later, in July 1997, Agyeman told the judge he still wasn't ready to proceed with his case.

"Are you still married to Barbara Barrett Levy?" Abbott asked.  

"Yes, Your Honor," Agyeman replied.

Abbott then said witnesses sometimes may testify by telephone, but "you did not make any arrangements for that. . . . I know you're somewhat at a disadvantage, representing yourself, but basically this is your trial date."

Agyeman explained that Levy was suffering from "bipolar illness," and hadn't responded to his two recent letters to her.

The judge asked if he was separated from Levy.

Though he was in prison by this time, Agyeman responded, "In between this [case], I go to New Jersey. I want to be reunited with my wife. It's my only marriage and the only person I'm really very close to, and I . . . left for England when I was very young, so I don't have any roots in Ghana at the moment."

Apparently unconvinced, Abbott asked Agyeman to tell him when he'd gotten married.

Agyeman said he didn't know the exact date.

"Well, that's going to get you in a lot of trouble," the judge said. "You forget your marriage, your wife's going to get really mad at you. . . . Give me information that Ms. Levy is still around and wants you back."

"That is the difficulty, I think, to get her here," Agyeman responded. "I might have to go for her. I am doubtful, even if I get her on the phone asking her to fly."

"Well," the judge shot back, "if I was in jail, and I got ahold of my wife and said, 'Honey, I'm in jail. I need you to show up in Timbuktu, Arizona, to let me stay [in America].' If she loved me, she would come for me. If she didn't like me anymore, then your [chance for a green card] is gone anyway, Mr. Agyeman."

At Agyeman's next hearing, in November 1997, Abbott again repeated that Barbara Levy had to appear in person or a deportation order was certain.

"She should have arrived here last week," Agyeman told him. "I know you must talk to her. And I will get her down here."

Agyeman added that he'd been stuck in "special housing" because of troubles with officers at the CCA prison, and hadn't had access to a phone or law books.

Judge Abbott had heard more than enough.

"I'm not getting a straight answer out of you," the irate judge replied. He then ordered Agyeman's deportation within 14 days.


Emmanuel Agyeman resolved from his cell to appeal the judge's ruling to the Board of Immigration Appeals.

"I was not going to be their vegetable, their specimen," he says, "though I knew this fight was not going to be easy. I was in shackles anytime I left the cell. I wasn't allowed to read the paper or listen to the radio. One book a week. I was totally cut out of life. People, even attorneys, can't get through to you."

Agyeman composed a handwritten notice of appeal, the effect of which was to put his deportation on hold.

Why Agyeman couldn't even pull together the money to make bail during this time and afterward is another head-scratcher in a tale full of them.

At the time of Agyeman's 1997 incarceration, a judge had set his bond at $8,000. Then, in October 2002 -- shortly after the 9th Circuit Court ruled in Agyeman's favor -- another judge dropped his bond to $5,000.

That shouldn't have been an insurmountable sum to the Ghanaian. Agyeman is adamant that he had the funds in Nevada, but he couldn't access them from prison. He apparently hadn't yet told family members of his plight.

His sisters, Peace and Vivian, say they never knew about his bond until a few years ago, and authorities then didn't explain what needed to be done to secure his release.

So Agyeman languished behind bars, month after month, year after year, as he awaited word of his appeal.

Meanwhile, his clashes with prison officials escalated. In mid-1998, a Pinal County grand jury indicted Agyeman on a charge of assaulting a corrections officer at the CCA facility, a felony and a deportable offense.

Records show he was incarcerated in the Pinal County Jail for 72 days before the case was dismissed because of a lack of evidence.

"I didn't do what they said I did," Agyeman says, "and there were too many people around who wouldn't lie for CCA, even their own employees."

That October, Agyeman accused prison officers of pummeling him for not obeying orders. He claimed to have suffered three broken teeth and other injuries during the incident.

The officers denied the allegations at the time and, later, in federal court after Agyeman sued the CCA and others allegedly involved.  

Then, in March 1999, the Board of Immigration Appeals upheld Judge Abbott's deportation order.

"As regrettable as this situation may be," the board concluded, "it is [Agyeman's] responsibility to provide evidence supporting his applications."

Agyeman appealed the board's decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where he caught a rare break.

In 1993, that court had started its novel pro bono program after seeing that one in three civil appeals are filed by litigants (mostly prisoners) doing their own legal work.

Under the program, court staffers read all such appeals to determine if the issues presented are "complex," unique or just worth pursuing. If so, volunteer attorneys are appointed from a list, and a three-member panel of judges hears oral arguments from both sides when the time comes.

The court appointed Seattle attorney Leonard Feldman to help Agyeman with his appeal. Feldman then recruited students from the University of Washington School of Law to assist him.

One of those students, Chris Durbin, argued on Agyeman's behalf to the 9th Circuit Court on October 16, 2001.

"We focused in on how the immigration judge [Abbott] had behaved at the hearings, not giving Agyeman a chance to explain his case," Durbin says. "It seemed very clear to us that the judge cut him off at every pass and didn't give him a fair shake."

Before the court issued its decision, however, Agyeman says he had one of the more surreal experiences along his already improbable journey.

He claims immigration officials collected him from Eloy one day, and told him they were taking him to Washington, D.C.:

"I flew with two people, a man and a woman, on a plane. They never said exactly what was going on. I thought I might be getting my say at a hearing there, or something. I spent the night in the jail in Arlington, Virginia, then we went into D.C. to the Ghanaian embassy there."

Agyeman says the U.S. authorities sought documents at the embassy to allow him "emergency" passage to his native country, but were rebuffed.

"I finally figured out what was going on," he says, "and I started saying very loudly that they didn't know what they were doing, that the 9th Circuit had put a stay on my deportation. The woman made a call, I think, then came back and said that I was right. We flew back [to Arizona] the next day."

Government officials contacted by New Times said they don't know what Agyeman was talking about.

But this comment from Washington, D.C.-based Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Ernestine Fobbs about Emmanuel Agyeman aptly sums up the feds' attitude toward him:

"I understand why someone would want to stay in the United States. But it looks like this guy has wasted a whole lot of taxpayer time and money to try to stay here."

On his return to Arizona after that alleged East Coast jaunt, "here" continued to be his tiny desert prison cell in Eloy, where he nervously awaited the court's decision.

In July 2002, the 9th Circuit Court came down on Agyeman's side by a vote of 2-1.

Judge Warren Ferguson wrote that Abbott wrongly had "led Agyeman to believe that he could not prove the bona fides of his marriage, short of producing a wife who testified that she was still in love with him. Thus, Agyeman was not only uninformed, but he also was misinformed about how to [proceed with] his application."

The judge also noted, "Levy's attendance and testimony at the deportation hearing was not a statutory prerequisite for [a green card]. Agyeman was only required to provide sufficient evidence of his bona fide marriage to an American citizen, yet this was never explained to him."

In a stinging dissent, Judge Andrew Kleinfeld said the majority had created "bizarre new constitutional law."

"Under today's decision," Kleinfeld wrote, "not only does an immigration judge have to act as a lawyer and psychiatrist, but if he tells [Agyeman] that he must present more than the minimum required by law to prevail -- even if it's true -- it's a denial of due process."

He continued, "Agyeman's own testimony had shed so much doubt on the validity of the marriage that nothing short of an effort by Ms. Levy personally to keep her husband in America would have convinced the immigration judge that the marriage was bona fide or that deportation would work a hardship on her."

The majority didn't rule on the merits of Agyeman's case, only that he'd "suffered prejudice" and that he deserved the full and fair hearing Abbott hadn't provided him.  

Six months after his big appellate victory, Emmanuel Agyeman sat before a different immigration judge, John W. Davis, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and surrounded by security.

Davis told Agyeman at that December 2002 hearing that he'd be demanding the same things as had Judge Abbott, short of "the presence of your wife."

Davis set the deportation trial for a few weeks later.

But on January 17, 2003, the government added another remarkable new wrinkle.

In papers filed with Judge Davis, lawyers for the U.S. Justice Department said Barbara Levy had died on May 7, 1999.

Consequently, they alleged, Agyeman's petition for a green card had been "automatically revoked effective on that date."

At Agyeman's deportation hearing a few days later, the judge asked him if he'd known Levy was dead.

Agyeman said he hadn't.

"I am terribly sorry to have to inform you, particularly in this manner, of your wife's death," Davis told him. "Unfortunately, sir, under the immigration law, that automatically revokes your petition."

(Levy's half-brother, Bob Cormack, says his sister died of pneumonia after suffering increased bouts of mental illness over the years. She was 49.)

Obviously unaware of the couple's long-standing divorce, the judge said Agyeman could have applied for a green card himself as a widower within two years after Levy died.

But Agyeman hadn't. Davis said that left him with one alternative, "and that is ordering you removed from the U.S. to Ghana."

Within a day, Agyeman had composed a legal motion in opposition. Not surprisingly, it didn't fly with Judge Davis.

"Your reading of the law is simply wrong, sir," he told Agyeman in a subsequent hearing. "Your petitioner [Barbara Levy] died. That ends these proceedings. . . . You do not fit any of these exceptions."

In the summer of 2003, the Board of Immigration Appeals upheld Davis.

Again, Agyeman asked for and received a stay of deportation. Also again, the 9th Circuit appointed a pro bono attorney, Kim Van Amburg of Snell and Wilmer, to represent him.

"It just felt like the right thing to do when I heard about Emmanuel's case," says Van Amburg, who works at the big firm's Tucson office. "It's a very unusual set of facts, with all kinds of fascinating legal issues, and it's hard not to feel for the guy and what he's gone through."

She, too, learned from New Times that Agyeman and Levy have been divorced for years, and concedes it's problematic.

But Van Amburg points out what 9th Circuit Court Judge Ferguson wrote in his 2002 majority opinion that favored Agyeman: "The key issue is: Did [Agyeman] and his wife intend to establish a life together at the time of their marriage?"

Van Amburg says she and her client hope that the court still may answer yes to that question, divorce or no divorce.


As if Emmanuel Agyeman didn't have enough to deal with, he again butted heads -- literally -- with corrections officers in January 2004.

That month, Pinal County prosecutors again accused Agyeman of assaulting an officer, this time inside his cell.

Eloy Police Department reports show that Agyeman supposedly took exception to being relocated from one cell to another.

According to the alleged victim and two eyewitnesses -- who also work at the Eloy prison as detention officers -- Agyeman thrust his head back, striking the officer under his left eye.

One of the eyewitnesses wrote in his statement, "Detainee struggled and slamed [sic] the back of his head into the face of C.O. Rodman."

The other eyewitness claimed Agyeman had "intentionally slamed [sic] the back of his head into the facial area."

That both eyewitnesses spelled the word "slammed" wrong raises questions about how closely they compared notes. Also interesting is that Agyeman's hand was broken during the incident, and the victim was uninjured.

Agyeman's version: "I really didn't want to go to the other cell because a guy I know committed suicide in there. They pushed my head against the wall, and I was just moving my head back. That's it. They don't charge me with murder or treason, but of head-butting a guy from behind when I was handcuffed with my head jammed up against a wall."

Agyeman says he's well aware that a conviction in the pending criminal case could mean his deportation.

"I know and they know that crimes of violence are automatically deportable," he wrote to his court-appointed defense attorney last year.

But never count him out.

"This is not lost on my accusers and their friends who have good reason because of my so-called litigious troublemaking to see me out of the country," he continued to the attorney. "This is the sole purpose of this charge."  

Emmanuel says he will play things out in criminal court, whatever the consequences.

"The authorities have offered to drop my charges if I'll agree to just leave the country," he goes on to the lawyer. "Do they think that I will just give up now and let them have their way? Not likely!"

The court-appointed attorney, Bill Pearlman, knows he has his hands full, both with the case and with his client.

"Emmanuel is extremely bright and obviously fixated on his cases," Pearlman says. "But I don't think he understands the uphill struggle he'll have in a Pinal County trial where the alleged victim is a guard, no matter what really happened. I'd have to think that getting deported may have been the lesser of two evils than spending years in prison. But Emmanuel has his principles."

Agyeman says he feels empowered by a second 9th Circuit Court opinion in his favor -- this one involving one of his civil lawsuits against prison authorities.

Last December, the court unanimously ordered a retrial in Agyeman's suit against CCA officers, whom he accused of beating him in the 1998 incident.

Though a jury in Phoenix quickly had rejected Agyeman's claims in 2003 (he represented himself at trial), the appeals court said a federal magistrate should have appointed him a lawyer.

"His case, in short, was complex," Judge John Noonan wrote. "The circumstances were exceptional. A further fact . . . is the anomaly of incarcerating a person on non-criminal charges and confining him for seven years. Such incarceration may be a cruel necessity of our immigration policy, but if it must be done, the greatest care must be observed in treating the innocent like a dangerous criminal. Is there any warrant for shackling the feet and binding the chest of an innocent detainee?"

Perhaps the last word should go to Bob Cormack, whose late sister Barbara unknowingly became a centerpiece of this twisted saga.

"I honestly don't know if that guy has the right legally to be in this country or not at this point," Cormack says. "But do we really need another con man here?"


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