Hamilton County man misses family vacation to Iceland after being wrongfully detained by Chattanooga police, sues city for $26 million

Hamilton County man misses family vacation to Iceland after being wrongfully detained by Chattanooga police, sues city for $26 million

Lawsuit: Mistaken identity led to man being wrongfully detained by Chattanooga police

February 21st, 2019 by Zack Peterson in Local Regional News

Document: See George Harrison's Lawsuit

Read the claims

A Hamilton County man says he was detained for three days in Maryland and missed a family vacation because of a bad warrant issued by two Chattanooga police officers.

George Harrison is asking for $26 million in damages from the city of Chattanooga and two officers, saying his Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, 13th and 14th Amendment rights were violated on June 28, 2018.

Harrison tried to board a flight to Iceland with his family that day, but instead wound up in custody for three days because of a case of mistaken identity, his lawyer, Clayton Whittaker, wrote in a lawsuit filed in Chattanooga's U.S. District Court on Feb. 12.

The saga began a little more than a month earlier, on May 18, 2018, when two officers issued a warrant. According to the lawsuit, two officers went to a residence on Montview Road for a woman who said her boyfriend attacked her. The suit says she identified her boyfriend as either George Harris or George Harrison and said he was a white man in his 50s who had a red beard and drove a black truck.

From there, the officers found a picture of George Harrison, the plaintiff, in the driver's license database, printed it out and showed it to the woman at Erlanger hospital. She identified him as her attacker and the officers sought a warrant, the suit says. The problem, attorney Whittaker wrote, was the officers couldn't access vehicle registration information to further verify what the woman had told them. Furthermore, the woman herself was in a vulnerable state, Whittaker wrote, being intoxicated and injured from a severe beating.

The arrest warrant went unexecuted for about a month. Then, on June 30, 2018, as George Harrison, his wife and other family members tried to board a flight to Iceland at the Baltimore Washington Marshal airport, agents from the Department of Homeland Security flagged Harrison because of the warrant. He was arrested, taken into local custody and his family missed the flight.

"During his incarceration in Anne Arundel County [in Maryland], Plaintiff George Harrison immediately and continually communicated to Defendant City of Chattanooga that they had arrested the wrong person and that the investigation misidentified him," Whittaker wrote. "The city of Chattanooga did not release the defendant."

Harrison was ultimately released on July 2, 2018. Later, the charge against him, aggravated assault, was dismissed after the woman said Harrison had been misidentified, the suit says.

Whittaker declined to comment Wednesday when reached, but noted that his client was in his mid-30s as opposed to his mid-50s.

Police spokeswoman Elisa Myzal said the officers continue to work at the department. She said there are no records indicating an internal investigation or a complaint from Harrison.

Keith Reisman, an assistant city attorney, said Wednesday he had not seen the lawsuit yet and could not comment. Next, the city will file its response, and attorneys will begin exchanging evidence and work toward a settlement, dismissal or trial.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.