The family of Cornell Whitfield, a Miami-based bodyguard, who was sentenced to prison in Dubai for intervening to protect R&B singer Trey Songz from a fan, is seeking assistance and justice in his case.
According to advocacy group Detained in Dubai, the incident occurred when Whitfield was accused of slapping a Jordanian man while leaving the luxurious Five Palm Jumeirah hotel in March. Whitfield, known for guarding celebrities like Lil’ Kim, Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs, and San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel, asserts that he was merely “doing his job” by standing between the singer, whose real name is Tremaine Neverson, and the allegedly “drunk and aggressive” individual. This legal assistance group claims that the Jordanian man demanded $60,000 to drop the allegation.
Whitfield had anticipated that the Dubai court system would exonerate him, considering he believed he acted in self-defense and exercised restraint. His cousin, Sarena George, expressed, “He was just doing his job and never expected the man would make a complaint considering it was him who was acting that way.” Evidence from hotel security, surveillance footage, and witnesses supports Whitfield’s account.
However, when Whitfield returned to Dubai in August, he was arrested and handed a one-year prison sentence. Radha Stirling, the CEO of Detained in Dubai, questioned whether celebrities should support Dubai if a bodyguard can be imprisoned for protecting a client. Stirling also highlighted the risk faced by foreigners in Dubai, where they may be targeted by locals who exploit the legal system for financial gain.
The Five Palm Jumeira hotel, shaped like Jenga blocks, has become a favored destination for US celebrities. Beyoncé, for instance, performed an hour-long concert there for a reported $24 million. Notably, her performance in a country with restrictive laws on gender and sexual rights sparked criticism.
Whitfield now faces legal debts exceeding $35,000. His family has reached out to Florida congresswoman Frederica Wilson and the US State Department in their pursuit of assistance.
Marysia Whitfield, Cornell Whitfield’s mother, expressed hope that the judge would overturn the custodial sentence, emphasizing, “It’s one thing if he committed a genuine crime, but he was just doing his job. He didn’t ask for any trouble.”
This situation bears similarities to the case of Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos, a 21-year-old US student who received a 12-month jail sentence in Dubai for tapping an airport security guard for help. Polanco tapped one of the women on the arm to request assistance in reattaching a waist compression device after surgery, which led to allegations of “assault and insult.” She was ultimately released in October with the help of the US embassy in Dubai and US congressman Ritchie Torres after being temporarily prevented from leaving the country due to customs staff’s appeal against the court-imposed fine.