The wife of a city employee has alleged that she has essentially been held captive in a home that operates under Sharia law, been physically abused, not allowed to work or go to school, and deprived of food and medical care.
But her husband, an Oak Ridge Electric Department project manager, said he can prove that the charges are unfounded. He called the allegations, which were publicized in a newspaper story last month, “salacious accusations.” The allegations sparked a social media backlash against the city employee, Oak Ridge Electric Department Project Manager Ardo Isma Ba.
The Oak Ridge Police Department has investigated some of the allegations against Ba, including the charge that he held his wife, Madina Sall, against her will for the past three years. That information was reported to the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, where Ba is a reserve deputy.
Ba was not charged after the investigation. Officers said Sall’s definition of abuse is different than what is defined in Tennessee law. Also, detectives appeared to have questions about the accuracy of some of the information, and they warned Sall of the consequences of reporting false information to law enforcement.
“The matter did appear to be a non-criminal matter due to the initial information given to (the Knox County Sheriff’s Office) not being accurate and no proof that any physical abuse has occurred,” the ORPD said.
Detectives said the ORPD and KCSO went “above and beyond” to help.
“No further action required by law enforcement in this matter,” the ORPD said.
The detectives who investigated were Kevin Craig, David Stephens, and William Weaver.
A temporary order of protection was issued against Ba in Anderson County Chancery Court on August 6, one day after the ORPD investigated. But the temporary order, an ex parte order, was dismissed about two weeks later, on August 21. Anderson County Chancellor M. Nichole Cantrell found that Sall had failed to prove her allegations.
In his interview with ORPD detectives on August 5, Ba offered a potential motive for the allegations by Sall: His wife, a citizen of Senegal living here on a marriage visa, wants to remain in the United States and can only stay if she either stays married to him, or files an immigration Form I-360 stating that she is a domestic violence victim. Ba told police that Sall must have chosen the second option.
“I felt this was coming,” Ba told detectives and a Knox County deputy during an August 5 interview, according to a police report released in response to a public records request from Oak Ridge Today.
During that interview, Ba said he and Sall were having marital problems, and they had made plans for his wife and their two daughters, ages six and two, to move back to Senegal. Sall and Ba were both born in Senegal, and the two married August 17, 2012, in Knoxville. Ba filed for divorce on October 2. Both he and Sall acknowledge “irreconcilable differences.”
But Sall changed her mind about moving back to Senegal, Ba said, and she told him she found another way to stay in the United States, without his sponsorship.
Sall told an ORPD detective that she had heard from a neighbor that she could complete an I-360 immigration form saying she is a victim of domestic violence and she would be allowed to remain in America. She said she completed the form with the neighbor’s help and sent it in.
Some of the allegations reported to the ORPD appear to be similar to those included in legal paperwork filed in Anderson County Chancery Court, including a petition for an order of protection filed on August 6, the day after the ORPD investigated.
In court filings, Sall laid out a series of accusations against Ba. Among them: She was forced to marry him. She was deprived of her humanity while living with her in-laws in Senegal and systematically abused, isolated, and terrorized for the past eight years. She was further isolated and imprisoned after she walked to the Social Security office while Ba was at work to obtain a temporary Social Security number. She was forced to stay home with the couple’s child almost all day every day and not allowed access to the world outside her home unless Ba, a reserve officer with the U.S. Army Reserves and Knox County, was present. She was not allowed to work or go to school, not allowed to sit on the porch, not allowed to talk to neighbors or have friends, not allowed access to the Internet, not provided any money, and afraid of Ba. He continually intimidated her with his service revolver and taser and deprives her of food and health care, controls her “every action,” and has “basically held her captive and in isolation since 2012,” the motions said.
The ORPD asked Sall about domestic abuse during an August 5 interview.
“She (Sall) advised that Mr. Ba would not fulfill his duties as a husband, by providing certain foods needed for religion purposes, making a way for her to leave their residence whenever she wants, and failing to complete the paperwork she needs sent to Immigration,” detectives said in the report.
The question of being held captive or imprisoned was addressed.
Sall told detectives she had lived with Ba for about three years, but they had been having marriage issues for more than one year. Sall wants to stay in America and attend college, the report said, but she said her husband will not give her the paperwork needed. Sall said Ba does not allow her to do anything other than stay at home, according to the report.
But, detectives continued: “She advised that she is not held in her residence by physical force. She is just unable to travel without a vehicle or money.”
A neighbor told an ORPD detective that Sall could leave the house whenever she wanted, according to the report. The neighbor said she hadn’t witnessed any physical violence between the two but had heard that Ba had grabbed paperwork from Sall when the two were at a third person’s house.
A detective asked Sall about physical abuse.
“Ms. Sall advised that, recently, she was holding the door with one hand and would not allow Mr. Ba inside the residence,” the report said. “She advised that Mr. Ba pulled her fingers off the door knob, one at a time, and pushed her arm away from (the) knob, and he walked inside the room. She advised that she almost fell during this incident.
“She advised that the other time she was physically abused was when Mr. Ba grabbed paperwork from her hand, and she approached Mr. Ba and tried taking the papers back. She advised that when she advanced on Mr. Ba, he would push her away from him and this went back and forth for minutes. Ms. Sall advised that she did fall to the ground once during this incident.”
But detectives learned during the interview that Sall’s definition of abuse is not the same as that defined in Tennessee law, the report said.
In a Chancery Court petition for an order of protection, Sall alleged that she has not been able to leave the home in the past three years. She said she has not been able to go to the store or the doctor, except when she was pregnant. And she said her husband kept her legal documents, allowed her visa to expire, and did not want her to apply for a green card. Although the ORPD hadn’t found abuse, Sall alleged that Ba had been physically abusive.
In other filings, Sall said her husband has made derogatory comments about her to the Muslim community and has referred to her as a lesbian.
“These remarks are tantamount to a death sentence and had caused the defendant to fear for her life,” the records said.
Ba has essentially held her captive in their home since she arrived in the United States, and she fears for her life because the couple’s home is run under Sharia law, Sall said.
“Under Sharia law, the law followed by (Ba), a man can beat his wife for insubordination, unilaterally divorce his wife; a woman can only testify in court in property cases, and her testimony carries half the weight,” the court records said. “Furthermore, noncompliance with Sharia law is cured by corporal punishment.”
A temporary, or ex parte, order of protection was issued on August 6, the same day that Sall filed the petition. But it was dismissed on August 21 when Cantrell found that Sall had failed to prove her allegations.
Through her attorney, Lauren R. Biloski, Sall has asked that the court set aside the dismissal. Biloski said Sall represented herself; her primary language is French and she does not have a strong command of the English language; she has never appeared in court before; and she was not able to understand the court’s instructions and requests. A French interpreter has been requested, and a January 11 hearing has been scheduled.
Ba said he is confident that he can show that the accusations against him are unfounded. He is represented by Knoxville attorney Patrick B. Slaughter. His wife has falsely accused him of abuse, Ba said.
“To date, there has been no proof to substantiate any of these accusations,” Ba said.
In his legal filings, Ba said the accusations against him are contained in about 30 paragraphs filling three single-spaced pages, “the vast majority of which are salacious in nature.” Some of the allegations occurred outside the United States, Ba said.
The allegations, some of which were published in a Knoxville News Sentinel story on November 7, led to a backlash against Ba on social media, with some saying he needs to be fired or put into jail. One person said Ba needs to be put in front of a firing squad, and another volunteered to be a rifleman.
Oak Ridge Electric Department Director Jack Suggs weighed in on that online debate.
“Before everyone lines up with rifles, it might be best to realize that these are allegations, not facts,” Suggs said. “This is a divorce situation. The facts will come out, and I suggest everyone wait for them before casting judgement.”
In a brief telephone interview on November 11, Suggs said Ba is a valued and trusted employee of the Oak Ridge Electric Department. He regrets that the allegations were made before they were proven in court, Suggs said.
“We look forward to all of the issues being settled in court,” Suggs said.
Ba wants Sall’s aunt, who lives in California, to appear by telephone. She intends to testify that the couple’s marriage was not forced but eagerly sought by Sall, who was one month shy of her 18th birthday at the time, Ba said.
Ba also wants to allow his parents to testify that when Sall lived with them, she was not abused, demeaned, or terrorized. Among other requests, he wants teachers to testify that he was an active parent, contrary to what Sall alleged; wants to show through medical records that Sall has visited the doctor and not been denied medical treatment and that he has participated in the medical care of his children, contrary to Sall’s allegations; compel the testimony of police officers who investigated the complaint filed against him by Sall, “in which she denied that (Ba) had ever physically abused her”; prove, with photographs, that while he identifies himself as Muslim, “he is not in fact a staunch or conservative Muslim, and does not in fact adhere to the teachings of Sharia law by providing pictures of (Sall) in his presence outside the home failing to wear a hijab or practicing any other tenets of a conservative Shia or Sharia law.”
Ba said Sall’s complaint that she had been assaulted was found to be without merit after the investigation by the Oak Ridge Police Department.
Sall asked for a restraining order on October 27. An ex parte, or temporary order, was issued on November 6.
Biloski is representing Sall pro bono, or without charge, but has requested a minimum of $2,500 be placed in trust to cover legal fees. Biloski said she cannot comment on the case at this time.
Through a representative, Slaughter, Ba’s attorney, said he has no interest in talking to the media.
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