For four days and four nights, Ali Abdilahi says, he sat in confusion and frustration in the Ramsey County jail, accused of being the wheelman in the attempted drive-by abduction of a 14-year-old girl in St. Paul's Dayton's Bluff neighborhood.
His mug shot ran on TV, and he was an instant pariah. Among the inmates, there was "nobody giving me a nice face, everybody giving me attitude," he said.
Even his wife initially doubted him when he called her from jail: "The police never can be wrong. Why would the police pick you up if you didn't do it?" Then, she apologized and promised she'd never say it again.
And so it was with considerable joy that his wife came home last week to find -- atop the family's TV set, where Abdilahi had put it -- a one-page court document dropping all charges against Ali Sid Abdilahi, 31, of St. Paul.
"In the interest of justice," said the filing from the Ramsey County attorney's office, the case filed against him was being dismissed.
The document brought a quiet end to a case that began with a teen telling of a late-morning attack during which she said she had fought off attempts to pull her into a car by grabbing onto a side mirror. She said she was dragged about 30 feet in the process. Two men were in the tan sedan, she told police then, and she thought they were going to rape her.
Abdilahi, speaking publicly about the case for the first time last week, said he was, in fact, a good Samaritan who gave a ride to the girl after finding her scraped and bleeding along a road 5 miles from where she later would say the alleged abduction attempt occurred.
Not only did he drive her to her neighborhood, Abdilahi said, but he also gave her $2 in change, too, so she could catch a bus to a friend's house rather than face her mother. The girl had told him, he said, that it was a friend who had beaten her, and that she didn't want her mom to know.
Said Abdilahi: "I just want people to know I'm an innocent guy."
Asked Friday to explain her office's dismissal of the case, County Attorney Susan Gaertner said that prosecutors have an ethical obligation not to proceed "if we think someone is innocent" or "if we think we can't prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt."
She demurred when asked if she thought Abdilahi was innocent.
"That's not for me to say," she said.
But Paul Edlund, Abdilahi's attorney, said his client's case was "the clearest case of actual innocence" he'd handled. The evidence, he said, included surveillance video and a copy of a Ramsey County juvenile court petition alleging that the teen accuser had -- less than a month before the April 1 incident -- made prank calls to police claiming she was being raped.
The video, captured at a gas station shortly before Abdilahi says he came upon the girl, also revealed, the attorney said, that he was traveling alone.
"Bad guy number two," Edlund said, never existed.
Questions at the start
School was out of session when the girl told police she was walking with headphones on near E. 7th and Mendota Streets, when a car pulled alongside her about 11:45 a.m. and a passenger rolled down a window, saying, "Little girl, come here."
When she didn't, she said, the man got out and grabbed her, prompting the struggle during which she says she grabbed the mirror, screamed and was dragged. The driver, she told police, was wearing glasses and had on a newer pair of tennis shoes with a blue stripe.
When he was apprehended about seven hours later, Abdilahi was wearing those Nike shoes. Police never did make a second arrest, and Abdilahi "wasn't talking," police officials said then. His criminal history, a spokesman noted, consisted only of traffic violations.
At the time, police said that stranger abductions were extremely rare, but that no evidence had been uncovered to cast doubt on the girl's story.
Asked if it were physically possible for the girl to be outside the passenger-side door, grabbing onto a mirror, while someone inside tried pulling her around and in, police spokesman Tom Walsh said then: "Yes, it makes sense, and it explains why her legs are damaged as they are. Because they're under the door as they're driving forward."
Asked how the girl could've seen the driver's shoes, police said she'd told investigators that while outside the open door she was at an angle that allowed her to see them.
Last week, Edlund showed photographs that he had taken of Abdilahi behind the wheel of his car. A console between the front seats obscures the passenger-side view of his feet. The girl had to be inside the car to see his Nike shoes, Edlund said.
And the car, as it turns out, is a sore subject with its now-former owner.
After his arrest, friends and family raised $7,500 to post bond for Abdilahi, whose bail had been set at $75,000. Edlund said that despite dismissal of the charges, Abdilahi is not entitled to reclaim that $7,500. (He would get back the full amount, the attorney said, only if he had put up the entire $75,000, which he could not afford to do.)
In addition, Abdilahi's car was auctioned off because he could not pay the $1,000 that Edlund said was needed to get it out of the impound lot.
Job prospects soured, too.
Abdilahi said that he'd been attending a truck-driving school, but that after his arrest, the school told him not to return until the case was resolved. He got word that an earlier application for an airport baggage-handling job had been accepted, Edlund said, but just before training, the airline learned of the arrest and said it couldn't hire him, after all.
A Somali immigrant and father of two little girls, Abdilahi said that while life in the United States once was beautiful, "for the last four months it has been hell."
As for his accuser, a reporter visited the girl's house on E. 3rd Street on Friday, only to learn that it had been condemned July 11. Both the lower and upper units were vacant.
Gaertner, when asked if the county attorney's office were considering new charges against the girl, said: "We are not expecting any charges relative to the false reporting of an assault."
Had the office looked into Abdilahi's version of events?
"We do not expect to file charges against her," she again replied.
Abdilahi said that he now plans to return to the truck-driving school, provided he can find bus connections to get him there.
St. Paul, in the meantime, may have lost a good Samaritan.
"Before, I was going to say I'm a good American citizen," Abdilahi said. "A good American. But not anymore. I'm not going to help nobody else dying in the street, if this is going to happen to me again. No. I'm not going to do that."
Anthony Lonetree • 651-298-1545