A North Carolina doctor is suing the City of Charlotte, Charlotte Police and two businesses months after she spent a night in jail for allegedly giving a vendor counterfeit cash. The case ended up being dropped because of lack of probable cause.
Dr. Cordula Lutz was at a show at the Charlotte Amphitheater with friends in June 2019 when she used a $100 bill to purchase beer, according to The Associated Press. “The way I was treated was inhumane, and I believe the way I was treated was based on the color of my skin,” said Lutz, a family physician who has practiced medicine in Charlotte since 2009. “I have worked very hard for everything I have, and I am not a criminal.”
Before giving Lutz her change and drink, the bartender reportedly checked the bill’s authenticity, marking it, Lutz said, to indicate it wasn’t counterfeit. After the exchange, Lutz returned to her seat.
A Live Nation employee approached her moments later demanding proof she was entitled to her concert seat. Lutz was the only Black person in her group and no one else was asked to show their tickets.
Eventually, Lutz was face to face with three Charlotte Police officers who accused her of using counterfeit cash to purchase her beer. She was confused by the allegation since she received the bill from her mother as a gift.
“I thought it was a joke,” Lutz told The Charlotte Observer last month. “Like there was going to be cameras and Ashton Kutcher (from Punk’d) was going to be coming out.”
Lutz was escorted off the premises and arrested. When she was in the police cruiser, she told the officers she was a doctor and urged them to Google her name for proof. One of Lutz’s friends also tried to advocate on her behalf to no avail.
“She told me she tried to get the manager to talk to me and/or drop the charges and he refused,” Lutz recalled.
Once she arrived at Mecklenburg County Jail, Lutz asked if she could have the handcuffs wrapped around her wrists removed for a bathroom break. The officer did not remove the restraints and accompanied Lutz to the toilet.
“Despite the fact that Dr. Lutz did not pose any physical risk or threat to the CMPD Officer, the officer would not remove the handcuffs,” according to the lawsuit. “As such, Dr. Lutz had to experience the humiliation of having the officer pull her pants up after she finished using the restroom.”
“It was so embarrassing for a stranger to have to pull my pants back up for me because I was unable to do so on my own,” Lutz told The Observer in an email. She spent a night in jail and was released at 6:30 a.m. the next day.
The charges were eventually dropped, but Lutz remained traumatized by the ordeal. She says she has nightmares and misses work to attend therapy.
Lutz wants unspecified damages for emotional distress, false imprisonment, racial and ethnic discrimination and negligence in hiring. The defendants in the case include Live Nation, the City of Charlotte and the three Charlotte Police officers who arrested her. Lawyers representing each of the defendants have not commented publicly to date.
“This is really about accountability,” said attorney Alesha Brown, who is representing Lutz. “People of color experience these issues every day. Many of them have either brushed it off or were left feeling very frustrated but did not know a way to hold people responsible.”