A Flagstaff man who was wrongfully arrested on suspicion of selling LSD has filed a federal lawsuit against the city, saying police ignored evidence that showed he wasn’t a drug dealer.
Tremayne Nez, who is Navajo, spent more than 30 hours in jail after being arrested last June as part of a multi-agency drug operation. Police have said his arrest was a case of mistaken identity and apologized.
The Flagstaff Police Department declined to comment Friday on the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court. City spokeswoman Jessica Drum didn’t immediately provide a response to questions.
The lawsuit calls into question police department policies on identifying suspects, the timing of police reports and the accuracy of an internal database that showed Nez lived at the same address as the person police were seeking.
A police task force has said it worked with a paid informant to purchase several tabs of LSD from a man named “Trey” in the parking lot of the apartment complex where Nez no longer lived. Police have said Nez and the actual suspect shared the same nickname, are in their early 20s, have similar physical features and are Native American, leading to the mistaken identity.
Nez’s attorney, Gary Pearlmutter, said his client never should have been arrested. He said police failed in their duty to properly investigate the suspected drug dealer, didn’t use all available resources and didn’t comply with department policies.
“Their investigation into the identity of the suspected dealer failed to meet basic objectively reasonable investigative standards for law enforcement,” Pearlmutter wrote in the lawsuit.
Along with the city, the lawsuit names three police officers as defendants.
One was overseeing the drug operation and learned from his wife, who was Nez’s direct supervisor at a hospital where he worked, that police had the wrong person a couple of days after Nez was arrested, according to the lawsuit. Before then, the officer had not watched recordings from the drug sale that showed the suspected drug dealer had longer hair than Nez and a tooth abnormality, the lawsuit contends.
Nez also wears glasses and has a different phone number than the man ultimately arrested.
Those details took a few hours to verify and would have spared Nez from being arrested, Pearlmutter wrote.
Police spokesman Sgt. Charles Hernandez previously said the department reviewed its policies and procedures after misidentifying Nez. But he wouldn’t say what changes have been made.
Nez had offered in December to settle the matter with the city for $350,000. Pearlmutter said the city did not respond to a notice of claim, which is a precursor to a lawsuit, paving the way for this week’s action.
The lawsuit seeks $350,000 in compensatory damages and other unspecified amounts to be determined at trial and attorney fees. Nez’s attorney also wants the city to remove any incorrect information about Nez from electronic databases.