SEATTLE — Rodrigue Fodjo-Kamdem and Christian Djoko say they were blindsided when they were arrested in November 2018, accused of committing a hate crime. They denied that they’d assaulted a gay man outside his North Seattle apartment or participated in an online, homophobic smear campaign against the man who, like them, had come to the U.S. from Cameroon, a Central African country where homosexuality is illegal.
“Everything was a made up story but no one believed us. He made up evidence,” said Djoko, now 30.
Initially filed in King County Superior Court, the criminal case against the men and a third co-defendant, Marie Fanyo-Patchou, 25, was transferred to U.S. District Court in Seattle in August 2019, where the trio was charged with conspiracy to engage in cyberstalking and interstate cyberstalking.
Those charges were dismissed last week.
Fodjo-Kamdem, who was a close friend of the alleged victim, and Djoko, who says he became a target after rebuffing the man’s romantic overtures, believe they were implicated so the man, who entered the U.S. in 2014 on a student visa, could claim asylum due to hostility against gay people in Cameroon.
The Seattle Times published a news story about the hate crime charges filed by King County prosecutors against Fodjo-Kamdem and Djoko on Nov. 20, 2018, about a month after the alleged victim claimed he was ambushed, had his wrists pinned behind his back and was violently shaken by his ears. He later told police his assailants spoke to him in French, called him a variety of derogatory names pertaining to his sexual orientation and said he needed to change, according to charging papers.
Fodjo-Kamdem and Djoko said in recent interviews that they’ve lost friendships and have seen their reputations tarnished as a result of the allegations. Djoko, who was three classes away from earning a university degree in accounting at the time of his arrest, said he was kicked out of school and is now trying to have his student visa reinstated.
Fodjo-Kamdem, 35, is a U.S. citizen. He said he was at his apartment in Lynnwood at the time the alleged victim claimed he was attacked — and that his cellphone records proved he was talking to his fiancée. Djoko said he offered his cellphone and internet records to authorities to show he was at home in Edmonds, but it is unclear whether his electronic devices were searched.
Fanyo-Patchou, who was added as a defendant after the case was moved to federal court, was studying in Germany before coming to the U.S. in 2017 to live with the alleged victim, whom she was apparently dating, court records say. By the time she was arrested in 2019, she was living in the Washington, D.C., area and was having a baby with a new partner, say the records.
She was accused of posting intimate photos of the man and his husband on social media sites and sending messages encouraging the man to kill himself, which the alleged victim claimed led to him receiving other threatening texts and voicemail messages.
“She’s happy,” defense attorney Mike Iaria said of Fanyo-Patchou’s reaction to news the charges have been dismissed. “It certainly put [her life] on hold for the better part of two years.”
The Seattle Times, which is not naming the alleged victim because he has not been charged with a crime, attempted to contact him but was unsuccessful. An email to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Seattle field office, seeking information about the man’s immigration status, was not answered.
Emily Langlie, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle, said by email that the government doesn’t intend to file any additional charges.
“Following a thorough review of the evidence, including information that has been obtained since the filing of the Indictment, prosecutors decided not to move forward with the case,” Langlie wrote in the email.
Citing U.S. Department of Justice policies, Langlie wrote, “we are not able to provide information on the thoughts and conclusions of DOJ attorneys or what specific analysis led to the decision to move for a dismissal.”
Court records, however, indicate that defense attorneys representing Fodjo-Kamdem, Djoko and Fanyo-Patchou conducted their own investigations and detailed a slew of falsehoods involving the alleged victim, including fake marriages to two men and evidence that his mother fabricated medical records after claiming she, too, was assaulted in Cameroon because of her son’s sexual orientation.
The alleged victim also refused to turn his cellphone over to Seattle police or the FBI, who were unable to analyze the phone’s location data or text messages reportedly sent to the man over the WhatsApp application, court records show.
“The only proof the government had was screenshots of screenshots on the complaining witness’s phone, which he refused to turn over,” said Iaria.
The alleged victim in the case stole Fodjo-Kamdem’s identity and impersonated him to get a job, Fodjo-Kamdem’s attorney, Robert Flennaugh, said in an email. Court records show the man worked at a Burger King restaurant in Bellevue.
“The government should have never charged Rodrigue Fodjo Kamdem and his two friends with a crime. … In short, what the alleged victim told the government simply was not true,” Flennaugh wrote in a statement about the case. “Speaking for Mr. Kamdem, we are happy that the government did the right thing by dismissing the case. Although the government has not been specific about their reasons for the dismissal, we suspect that they found similar untruths that the defense uncovered.”
Though his client is elated the case was dismissed, “it is a bittersweet victory,” Flennaugh wrote. “Now, he has the daunting task of trying to regain his reputation.”
News researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story, which includes information from Seattle Times archives.