Strange But True

Motion: United Pilot Nudity Bust at DIA Hotel Was Wrong, Should Be Tossed

United Airlines Captain Andrew Collins during his September arrest for indecent exposure, as seen in police body-camera footage.
United Airlines Captain Andrew Collins during his September arrest for indecent exposure, as seen in police body-camera footage. Denver Police Department
United Airlines Captain Andrew 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."

Now, Collins's attorney, Craig Silverman of the Denver law firm Silverman & Olivas, P.C., has filed a motion to dismiss the case "based on outrageous governmental misconduct."

The motion is accessible below along with two body-camera videos taken by Denver police officers that are intended to underscore the argument that Collins, a veteran pilot in his third decade with United and the father of three grown sons who serve in the United States Air Force, had simply been walking around his room while talking on the phone and had no idea that anyone could see him. He was arrested anyway, even though false claims that he'd committed lewd acts fell apart within minutes.

The motion, filed January 15 in Denver County Court, begins with a pair of simple, straightforward statements: "It is not a crime to be naked in Denver, even if you are a man. It is certainly not a crime to be naked in Denver in one's lawful dwelling, which includes lawful occupancy of one's own hotel room."

click to enlarge
The view from Collins's room at the DIA Westin, as seen in a police body-camera screen capture.
Denver Police Department
Nevertheless, the motion continues, "The Denver DA's office is harshly pursuing a charge of Indecent Exposure, an allegation which has caused Captain Collins to be suspended from flying, and a conviction for which a defendant may be sentenced to two years in jail, and must register as a sex offender and be listed on sex offender registries."

Note that Collins, 54, had no previous trouble with the law.

That changed on September 20, 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 due to fly to Cedar Rapids early that afternoon.

Upon awakening, Collins is said to have 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. However, the motion states that 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 narrative 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 notes, 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 text continues. 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.

The motion asserts that the police lacked a probable-cause warrant authorizing their entry into the hotel room and did not read Collins a Miranda advisement. Instead, they "peppered" him "with substantive questions as he stood handcuffed and topless in his hotel bedroom."

In answering Collins's inquiry about why he was being arrested, Coleman referred to "lewd acts and indecent exposure, and wrongly claimed there were incriminating photographs."

This confusion, presumably caused by "the imprecise process of transmitted hearsay communications," seems to have resulted in the officers being under the mistaken assumption "that somebody purportedly saw masturbation," the motion reveals.

During the eight minutes or so that followed, Sergeant Pfannkuch, another member of the Denver Police Department on the scene, received clarification that "no masturbation or lewd acts had been observed," the account continues. "But apparently because Captain Collins had already been arrested and led out of [the room] by the dominant, agitated and aggressive Officer Coleman, she declined to intervene in the wrongful arrest based on what she now knew was a miscommunicated accusation."

A segment from Sergeant Pfannkuch's body-camera video can be seen here.

Of the witnesses who saw Collins through the window, all but one declined to press charges, and the remaining person is quoted as suggesting that doing so wasn't necessary before saying that he would, since he had seen the man "dancing around naked" — a characterization the motion rejects.

From there, the document advances the theory that the police violated Collins's constitutional rights by entering and searching his room without a warrant — actions that would have only been justified under exceptions for "hot pursuit and destruction of evidence."

A key claim: It "is shocking to the universal sense of justice for any person to be arrested for being naked in his Denver hotel room without the police exercising even a modicum of common sense or simple investigation to realize the inappropriateness of the warrantless entry, arrest and search." Yet Collins "was arrested and jailed for days; and this ridiculous prosecution has gone on for several months without anybody in Denver law enforcement yet taking responsibility for this meritless charge; and it is time for some responsible Denver government official to figure this out and dismiss this unjust case."

Click to access People of the State of Colorado v. Andrew Collins: Motion to Dismiss Based on Outrageous Governmental Misconduct.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts