Lawsuit: Chattanooga airport officers detained man, his family because of his race while they were trying to rent a minivan

Lawsuit: Chattanooga airport officers detained man, his family because of his race while they were trying to rent a minivan

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

A Chattanooga man of Nigerian descent says he was improperly detained for nearly three hours at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport after an employee called police on him while he tried to rent a car.

Adebayo Adeeko and his wife, Ashley Adeeko, are asking the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority and EAN Holdings LLC, which owns the rental car company, for $1.3 million in damages in connection with the April 13, 2018, incident, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Hamilton County Circuit Court. Adebayo Adeeko, who is black, and his wife, who is white, said the treatment amounted to an unreasonable search and seizure and was based on his race.

The suit says Adebayo Adeeko, who was born in Nigeria and later became a naturalized U.S. citizen, had rented a minivan online and went to the airport with his wife and children to pick it up. While at the counter, the suit says, an employee asked him for identification and a form of payment. Adebayo Adeeko handed over a "valid, genuine, not suspended or otherwise revoked" driver's license and credit card, the suit says. At some point, the employee stepped away from the counter, returned several minutes later and told him she was having problems with his credit card.

"The employee then engaged in questioning Adeeko about things such as his purpose for renting the van, and where he was going with the van," the Adeekos' attorney, Robin Flores, wrote in the lawsuit. "The employee had called [airport] police and falsely claimed Adeeko was presenting a fake identification and form of payment."

Chattanooga attorney Hugh Moore, who often handles litigation for the airport, said Thursday he had not been served with a copy of the lawsuit and could not comment on the allegations. Airport Authority Board President and CEO Terry L. Hart could not be reached for comment.

From there, the Adeekos said in their suit, two airport police officers showed up and inspected his license for several minutes. One, who has not yet been identified from video of the incident, said Adebayo Adeeko's license appeared fake, the suit says. The other, Darrell Wright, also concluded it was "the best fake ID I ever saw," the suit says. When his wife saw what was happening, she said his license was just as valid as hers.

"Without any lawful justification, [officer] Wright ordered Ashley to produce her license, or she would go to jail with Adebayo," Flores wrote.

Adeeko Adebayo then told Wright and the second officer he was an American citizen and showed them his passport. Bu that didn't help either, the suit says. Wright asked for all of Adeeko Adebayo's credit cards, his Social Security card and his passport and claimed they were fake, at one point remarking, "everything I have points to [Adebayo] as Nigerian," the suit says. Then, over the next two and a half hours, he called Adeeko Adebayo's banks and creditors in front of his children and the rest of the airport, the suit says.

Ultimately, the Adeekos were unable to rent the van, the lawsuit says, and experienced mental anguish, racial profiling and emotional duress.

Next, the airport authority's attorneys likely will file a response in Circuit Court. From there, attorneys will exchange evidence and written questions, potentially conduct depositions and work toward a settlement, trial or dismissal.

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