Why has the City of Denver agreed to pay $300,000 to United Airlines Captain Andrew Collins? So many reasons.
Collins made local, national and international headlines last year after he was arrested at Denver International Airport's Westin Hotel on accusations that he had "knowingly and willfully" stood in front of his room's window, "exposing himself and his genitalia to the general public." In January, Craig Silverman, Collins's attorney, called for the case's dismissal "based on outrageous governmental misconduct," and after an indecent exposure charge was indeed dropped, he filed a notice of claim — a precursor to a potential lawsuit. One excerpt from that notice reads: "The precise amount of damages cannot be currently calculated, but Andrew Collins suffered trauma and economic damages that would justify an award of more than a million dollars."
In the end, Collins agreed to accept a little under a third of that amount. "Neither side got exactly what they wanted, but you compromise," he says. Still, he continues, "Craig and I feel that this is a good settlement, and hopefully it's going to hold somebody accountable — shine a spotlight on the policy and procedure of the police in Denver."
Silverman agrees. But from his perspective, the matter isn't completely resolved. "We'd like the DIA Westin to step up and acknowledge what it did wrong in this situation," he says. As for the potential of a lawsuit against the hotel, he notes, "We're contemplating it."
When asked about this prospect, DIA Westin general manager Laura Lojas responds via email, "We do not comment on pending litigation," even though no such litigation has yet been filed. We also contacted several Denver government agencies about the settlement, with Ryan Luby of the city attorney's office and Emily Williams, speaking for DIA, confirming only that the $300,000 was paid for out of airport’s liability insurance.
The narrative in the motion to dismiss begins in late September, 2018, the morning after Collins was assigned to a layover in Denver after thunderstorms had forced him to divert his flight to Colorado Springs. He was scheduled to fly to Cedar Rapids early that afternoon.
Upon awakening, Collins opened the curtains of his tenth-floor room at the Westin, which faces north toward DIA's terminal approximately 100 yards away, to let in the sun. According to the motion to dismiss, the "window appeared to have a tinted composition and resembled other high-quality large city hotel windows that prevent viewing inside the hotel window from the outside." The motion also argues that "at late morning on September 20, 2018, people inside the concourse windows are tinted green and are opaque and reflective."
Collins intended to shower, the document continues, but before doing so, he decided to "engage in phone conversations with fellow UAL pilots about an imminent pilot union election in which Captain Collins was participating as a top candidate."
During those chats, Collins paced about the room while using a hands-free, Bluetooth-enabled device, "unaware of anybody observing him," the motion asserts. So he was startled at around 11 a.m. when Denver Police Officer K. Coleman began hammering on his door, and announced that he and the law enforcement agents with him would be coming in with or without Collins's permission.
The following body-camera video from Officer Coleman captures these moments and more. Note that Collins isn't wearing a shirt but is clad from the waist down.
Silverman picks up the story from there.
"I got this case through a phone call from distraught friends and then the wife of Andy Collins," he recalls. "I rushed down to the Denver jail and found him in uniform — and by that, I mean a Denver jail orange jumpsuit. He had never been arrested before in his life. Andy told me what happened, and every word of what he said checked out — and as a native Denverite, I was offended by the way he got treated in our city, which violated his constitutional rights."
In Silverman's words, "It is fundamental in the Constitution that your home should not be invaded by the government without a warrant, or that there be some exception to the Fourth Amendment requirement that a probable-cause warrant be presented to a judge before you go into somebody's private dwelling — and a hotel is the equivalent of a person's home."
Nonetheless, he maintains, "these officers went into the hotel room without a warrant and without probable cause and immediately took physical control of Andy. They handcuffed him, they accused him of all sorts of things that he didn't do, and he was in jail for days before he was able to be released."
Now, "Denver has paid for its violation of Andy's constitutional rights," Silverman says. However, he believes the DIA Westin shares some of the responsibility for what went wrong: "Top-shelf hotels make it a priority to protect the privacy and security of their customers in their hotel rooms. But we know from the body-camera video and from the testimony of the officers that they did this with the assistance and under the auspices of the DIA Westin. They had to go first to the management, and they were accompanied by a member of the DIA Westin team, who didn't seem to put up any resistance to the officers as they violated the constitutional rights of one of its hotel customers."
Silverman sees a corollary between these actions and 2017 reporting by the Phoenix New Times, a sister paper of Westword, about cooperation between a Motel 6 and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents "to hassle people with Hispanic surnames. And there is a federal law that prohibits non-law enforcement from assisting law enforcement to violate constitutional rights, including the right to privacy, when you check into a hotel."
He also faults the DIA Westin for "windows that allow people to see from across the terminal, but the customers don't know about that some of the time, because the people in the terminal are not visible to them. Some of it depends on the direction of the sun and certain times of the year — but mid-morning on September 20, 2018, you cannot see into the terminal from the room where Andy was staying. So the people watching Andy were not visible to him, and given that he had never been at the DIA Westin before and he had arrived at night, he just opened the blinds to let in the Colorado sun and look at a great view of the Front Range and the west runways. The DIA Westin should warn its patrons about that, or tint its windows to avoid this kind of situation, which most top-notch hotels do under such circumstances."
Silverman says that he's been in contact with the legal department at Marriott, the DIA Westin's parent company, "but so far, they have been unwilling to even share any of their records about what happened." A lawsuit could potentially compel the release of such material.
For his part, Collins says, "The biggest relief for me was when the criminal case was dismissed. You're an innocent person in lockdown for 23 hours a day in a jail cell — and that's not to mention the suffering my family had to go through the whole time."
With respect to the settlement, he feels "that was the logical next step, and it's great that I was vindicated. But we think the Westin shares some culpability, too — and in our system, you have to be prepared to go down that road" toward a possible lawsuit.
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Even with the settlement from Denver, Collins stresses that the fallout from his arrest is not yet behind him. He had to drop out of the race for the union presidency because of his arrest, "and I still have to explain the situation every time I go to work to every first officer I fly with or every flight attendant who brings it up: 'Oh, you were that guy.' And coming through Customs, which I sometimes do multiple times on the same trip — I often fly to Central America, Mexico, the islands — I'm pulled aside by Homeland Security and asked if I've been arrested. The case was dismissed and expunged from my record, but I'm still compelled to tell Homeland Security about the arrest.
"So I'm required to talk about it continually, and it continues to be difficult," he adds. "So I'm pleased that Denver has acknowledged that it did something wrong, and I think commonsense people will understand that this was an unjust situation. But I still haven't been made whole."
This post was updated to include comments from Denver spokespersons Ryan Luby and Emily Williams.