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Flagstaff man wrongfully arrested in drug sting mulls suit

(AP Photo/Felicia Fonseca)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — A Flagstaff man who spent more than 30 hours in jail after he was wrongfully arrested on suspicion of selling LSD is considering a lawsuit, saying mistakes made by police should have consequences.

Tremayne Nez, who is Navajo, was arrested earlier this month as part of a multi-agency drug operation. His mug shot was circulated online, and he said he was placed on administrative leave from his job and subjected to a drug test before being cleared this week to return to work.

“I do support the police in all they do, but there’s consequences for mistakes,” Nez said Friday at a news conference outside the Coconino County courthouse. “That’s why there’s jails. As citizens, if we make mistakes, we go to jail. If officers make mistakes, then they have to have consequences, too.”

Police say Nez’s arrest on June 18 was a case of mistaken identity and have apologized to him.

A Coconino County Superior Court judge signed an order Friday dismissing a single felony count against him without prejudice, meaning it can be filed again.

Flagstaff police spokesman Sgt. Charles Hernandez said a task force was working with a paid informant who purchased LSD from a man named “Trey” in the parking lot of a place Nez used to live. The informant later was shown a picture of Nez and identified him as the seller, Hernandez said. The actual suspect — Trey Store — and Nez share the same nickname, are in their early 20s, have similar physical features and are Native American, which led to the mistaken identity, Hernandez said.

“Investigators and resources are not infallible and in this case a mistake was made during the identification of Mr. Tremayne Nez as the individual who sold drugs, which was subsequently corrected immediately upon discovery,” Hernandez wrote in response to questions from The Associated Press.

Hernandez said police are reviewing policies after Nez’s arrest, which will be removed from his record. Store was arrested Wednesday.

Nez, a recent college graduate and the youngest son of a pastor on the Navajo Nation, said he was asleep when law enforcement officers showed up at his home a couple hours after he finished his shift at the hospital on June 18. Soon, he was in handcuffs.

No illegal drugs were found in his home, said Nez and two attorneys who joined him at the news conference.

While in jail, Nez said he prayed while hearing cell doors open and close every few minutes. After meeting with a defense attorney, he glanced up at the wall above a doorway and saw the words “prayer works” and “God is good.”

“I knew it was going to work out,” he said. “It was very scary. I felt helpless, I couldn’t do anything.”

His family posted a $15,000 bond and Nez was released from jail just after 7 p.m. on June 19.

The Flagstaff Police Department announced the arrests of nearly three dozen people in a drug operation the same day. A week later, police announced Nez was wrongfully accused.

Wendy White with the Southwest Center for Equal Justice said she anticipated filing a lawsuit against the city of Flagstaff on behalf of Nez and his family that could include allegations of wrongful arrest, defamation, violation of civil rights and racial bias.

“This shouldn’t have happened, all the tools were there,” White said. “The police could have done this correctly and never have gotten Tremayne involved.”

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