Arizona man wrongfully accused of selling LSD settles suit
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - An Arizona man who was wrongfully arrested on suspicion of selling LSD has reached a settlement with the city of Flagstaff that includes a $75,000 payment.
The parties filed a document in court Monday to dismiss the federal case, several months after Tremayne Nez, who is Navajo, accused Flagstaff police of ignoring evidence that showed he wasn't a drug dealer. The city said it cleared the arrest as soon as police became aware of what they said was a case of mistaken identity and apologized.
The city agreed to pay Nez and his wife, Marcella, $75,000, issue a written apology, help ensure all court and law enforcement records clearly indicate Nez is innocent and pursue dismissal of the drug charge with prejudice, meaning it can’t be refiled.
Nez was among dozens of people arrested in 2019 as part of a multiagency operation to nab drug dealers around Flagstaff. Police worked with a paid informant to purchase several tabs of LSD from a man named “Trey” in the parking lot of an apartment complex where Nez no longer lived.
Nez and the actual suspect shared the same nickname, were in their early 20s, have similar physical features and are Native American, leading to the mistaken identity, police said.
The suspect had longer hair than Nez and a tooth abnormality, and Nez wears glasses.
The city maintains its actions were legal and did not admit liability in the settlement. Instead, it settled to avoid the costs of fighting the case, according to the agreement.
Nez said he appreciates the Flagstaff Police Department's recognition of accountability and truth.
“My family and I are happy this nightmare is now behind us, and we can move on with our lives," he said in a statement to The Associated Press.
In the apology letter, police chief Dan Musselman said the department “appreciates the emotional trauma that Mr. Nez and his family experienced and hope that he is now able to pursue his professional goals.”
Nez and his wife initially offered to settle the matter for $350,000. The city didn’t respond to a notice of claim, paving the way for the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Arizona that sought the same amount in compensatory damages.
The lawsuit called 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. Flagstaff police said they have since put in safeguards to ensure suspects are not misidentified.
Nez's attorney, Gary Pearlmutter, has said his client never should have been arrested. Nez spent more than 30 hours in jail before he posted bond.
The city had asked the court in November to dismiss the case, saying the plaintiffs failed to state a claim for relief on any of the counts. They reiterated a denial of the allegations in the settlement agreement.
“All the incidents involved with the 2019 events were lawful products of an unfortunate but legal mistake made by an informant,” the agreement signed by the Flagstaff city manager and the defendants read.
The parties are responsible for their own attorneys fees.