We all know that being the only Black person in a predominately white space can put one in the spotlight and with a target on their back if anything goes wrong. In the case of Emanuel Fair, it was that reality that cost a Black man more than eight years of his life—which he spent in lockup without a single conviction. Fair is now suing everyone involved with his imprisonment.
According to Rolling Stone, Fair attended a Halloween party at the Valley View Apartments in Redmond, Washington, in 2008. It was essentially a small block party where numerous residents had their apartment doors open to party-goers. But Fair was not a resident. Fair had been staying with a friend, Leslie Potts. Fair didn’t know anyone else at the party, which he had no idea was taking place as he had just begun his stay in Potts’ apartment. So a few of Potts’ neighbors helped him pull together a “construction worker” costume to celebrate the festivities. Rolling Stone’s report noted that others who attended the party said he was relatively quiet—which makes sense if he knew next to no one—but mostly, he was referred to as “the Black guy,” as he was apparently the only Black man there.
And that’s exactly what made him the one and only suspect arrested when 24-year-old software engineer Arpana Jinaga, one of the party’s hosts, was found beaten, sexually assaulted, and strangled to death in her apartment on November 1 of that year.
The lead detective in the case, Brian Coat, reportedly looked through photos of the party when he noticed Fair, who he referred to as “the only African American male at the party,” which led Coat to feel he looked like an “outsider.” And that’s what racial profiling is all about. Being Black makes one hypervisible when a crime has been committed. All that has to happen is white people seeing a Black person and deciding they don’t belong—that’s enough to make us suspicious.
Now, it turned out Fair did have a criminal record—mostly juvenile offenses, but also a third-degree rape charge he spent three years in prison for. In that case, Fair had entered an Alford plea, which Rolling Stone noted “meant that he accepted the plea agreement while still maintaining his innocence — a common tactic when you can’t afford to go to trial. He spent three years in prison for the charge.”
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Rolling Stone’s account of Fair’s case and the investigation into Jinaga’s murder is based on more than a thousand pages of case files and legal documents. They show that there was persuasive evidence against at least six other suspects that the detectives were investigating — none of whom were Black, and none of whom spent a day in jail for Jinaga’s murder. Fair’s lawsuit claims the detectives on the case “ignored and failed to gather evidence that did not align with their theory of the case.” It also alleges they treated Fair so differently than the white suspects that “the treatment can only be viewed as racial discrimination.”
The case files show breaches of protocol that span from careless errors — such as not training their detectives to change gloves between DNA samples and not securing key locations of the crime scene — to calling in a famous psychic medium to weigh in on the case. Those protocol failures, the suit alleges, in concert with the detectives’ apparent racial discrimination, deprived Emanuel Fair of his civil rights, and denied Arpana Jinaga any chance at justice.
“I’ve never seen a worse case,” says Corinne Sebren, one of Fair’s lawyers, who specializes in civil rights cases. “There’s very little justice left to salvage.” There is, however, a person trying to salvage a life interrupted, trying to return to life after a decade in purgatory, thanks to a legal system that still won’t concede it’s done anything wrong.
These people really called in a psychic.
Investigators found Fair’s DNA in Jinaga’s apartment, but dozens of people had been in and out of her apartment so that didn’t mean much. But investigators also found a match on Jinaga’s robe and a roll of duct tape reportedly used to gag her.
But DNA that didn’t match Fair was found on a bruise on Jinga’s wrist and on a tampon that had been removed from her body before her death. Police files “show that there are multiple other men in Jinaga’s life that had as much, if not more, evidence against them,” Rolling Stone reported, but only one man was arrested—the Black guy who didn’t belong.
While Fair, who had been charged with first-degree murder, was being held in King County Jail on a seven-figure bail his family couldn’t afford, he had his first trial in 2017. The jury deadlocked and he was tried again in 2019 when a jury found him not guilty.
It was a crime in which there were no witnesses, no confessions, and, ultimately, no justice for Jinga.
And now Fair wants everyone involved in his imprisonment to say “I’m sorry” with their wallets.
If anyone ever wondered why Black people avoid non-Black spaces, this is why.
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