A part-time firefighter in one of the central Illinois towns pummeled by last week's deadly tornadoes is suing the county after being arrested on suspicion of looting when he was found picking up trash on his family's property.
Michael Barrow, a 24-year-old part-time firefighter for the Coal City Fire Protection District, was arrested Sunday after a sheriff’s police officer allegedly saw Barrow and a woman running from a tobacco shop with packs of cigarettes and cigars. A Will County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman said Barrow found carrying 15 packs of cigars and cigarettes, the Sun-Times reports.
"I was wrongfully arrested," Barrow said according to the Morris Daily Herald. "My good name is smeared." Barrow told the Herald he was on family property belonging to his in-laws adjacent to the tobacco shop -- at least 100 yards away -- when the deputy made contact
"The building was so compromised, and with me being a firefighter, I know what structural damage is," Barrow said of the tobacco shop he was accused of looting. "I would never go within 30 feet of this building."
Barrow’s wife, Kaylie, said the officer had the situation all wrong and that the couple did not take anything from the store, nor did her husband run from the deputy.
Kaylie Barrow told the Sun-Times they were picking up packs of cigarettes that had blown from the store onto her parents’ property so her younger siblings could not get them.
“He was there to help my family,” Barrow said of her husband.
Barrow was held overnight on probable cause, but a judge dismissed the case the next morning for insufficient evidence. Barrow told the Sun-Times officers refused to give him his or his wife's keys upon his release classifying them as evidence.
"I'm not sure why keys were held for evidence when charges were dropped," Barrow said.
Though a judge dismissed the charges the next day, Barrow is suing for more than $1.5 million in damages, WGN reports. In addition to seeking damages, the lawsuit accuses the arresting deputy of "manufacturing a story to make the arrest seem legitimate."