Captain Andrew Collins is a pilot for United Airlines. He has more than two decades of experience, and he seems to love it. Then, last September, he stayed overnight at the last minute at a Denver airport hotel.
And then, his nightmare began: one that involved handcuffs, two days in jail, a tawdry and embarrassing criminal case hanging over his head, and suspension from the job he loved.
Fortunately, it just ended with total exoneration last month--and perhaps a $1 million or more lawsuit against the city of Denver and perhaps other defendants.
I wrote about Collins last year, shortly after his arrest and while the case was pending. Now that it's all come (mostly) to a close, it's worth learning the details.
The "opaque" truth
As Collins's lawyer says, Collins stayed overnight at the Westin DIA, planning to deadhead to his next assignment. He woke up, took off his clothes, and was ready to take a shower when he got a phone call.
He was in the middle of a campaign to become the head of his union at the time, and he talked with a colleague about the election for 24 minutes--all the while, pacing alone in his hotel room in his birthday suit.
Unfortunately for Collins, but unknown to him at the time, the window in his hotel room wasn't made of privacy glass. Thus, he was visible, in all his naked glory, to people standing in one of the terminals at the Denver airport.
The whole thing seems ridiculous in retrospect. There's no law against being alone naked in your hotel room, obviously. And as Collins's attorney, Craig Silverman, later explained, the windows on the terminal were reflective and opaque.
So even though people in the airport could see Collins, he couldn't see them.
I feel bad for Collins at this point. He went from talking on the phone to hearing a knock at the door from the Denver police--and a warning that they'd be coming in "with or without your permission"--in a matter of minutes at most.
Seconds later, he was standing, shirtless (but wearing pants), in handcuffs, being told he was going to be arrested, as a couple of police officers went through all his belongings and led him away.
The whole arrest was captured on body camera video, so you can see part of it below. (I've embedded it at the end of this article.) One of the police officers tells Collins incorrectly that there are photographs of him.
From there, he was carted off to jail, where he reportedly stayed for two days before he even got to see a judge. United suspended him from flying. He dropped out of the union election. And he had to wait six months to go to court.
"I want...this to never happen to anybody again"
Last month, finally, prosecutors admitted there wasn't much chance of conviction. A judge dismissed the case against Collins.
"What I want most is for this to never happen to anybody again," he told a local Denver television station. "I don't want someone to have to live the last six months of my life."
His attorney told the same station: "Thank goodness the criminal case is over. They made a mountain out of a mole hill."
I added the emphasis to "criminal case" above, because as of a few days after the dismissal, the next phase has begun: the part where Collins pursues a $1 million or more claim against the city of Denver for allowing the whole thing to happen.
"We look forward to working with the city of Denver"
In a "statutory notice of claims against government entity," Silverstein says the Denver police officers violated Collins's constitutional rights by bursting in and searching his room without a warrant, and by arresting him for a crime he clearly wasn't guilty of.
While nobody disputes that Collins was walking around unclothed in his hotel room, the law against indecent exposure would have required him to intentionally expose himself, "with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desire of any person."
In short, "there was nudity in this case but nothing sexual," Silverstein wrote.
Separately, he told me Saturday that Collins has been reinstated as a pilot--although he still lost six months out of his life as a result of this, including humiliation and having to withdraw from the union election.
"Now it is time for the civil justice system to work, and we look forward to working with the City of Denver in this regard," Silverstein wrote, later adding, that he believed the case "would justify an award of more than a million dollars."