KAKE NEWS INVESTIGATES: Wichita man settles lawsuit over mistaken ISIS flag

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In this photo entered into evidence by Zanial's attorneys, a man is running with the Malaysian national flag during the party at the SBEA lake in September 2017. In this photo entered into evidence by Zanial's attorneys, a man is running with the Malaysian national flag during the party at the SBEA lake in September 2017.
The ISIS flag. The ISIS flag.

You may remember the headlines when a security guard reported a Wichita engineer and his family were flying a flag with ISIS symbols at the Spirit Boeing Employee Association's lake.  It was a Malaysian national flag.

This last week the engineer settled a lawsuit he filed against the guard's employer.  Now, he's sharing his story only with KAKE News investigates. 

Because of the terms of the settlement, Munir Zanial couldn't speak about the lawsuit itself or the specifics of the investigation.  But, he called the investigation scary and says he only sued because of his children.  He also says it's changed his perspective about living in the United States.

"It makes me think twice, essentially, when we are going out," Zanial said.

He and his wife immigrated to the United States from Malaysia.  They have two children, both born in the U.S.  He likes his job as an aerospace engineer in Wichita and thought life was going well here.

"Looking back I would never have suspected anything went wrong," he said about that day in September 2017.

Zanial and his family gathered with friends at the Spirit Boeing Employee Association's lake to celebrate birthdays, Malaysian Independence Day and the end of Ramadan.  He called it a typical picnic at the lake.

Until, days later, he got a notice from Facebook saying the FBI was investigating his social media.

"I'm like, whoa!  What did I do wrong?" Zanial said, explaining his first reaction once he realized the notification was legitimate, not a scam.  

It took longer to learn the investigation stemmed from a security guard's report they had been flying an American flag defaced with the ISIS logo at that picnic.

"I've never been in any sort of trouble," Zanial said.

But, as a Muslim immigrant in a post-9/11 world, he worried about what the investigation could mean for their lives even once proven innocent, something he never doubted.

"I may have trouble, like, coming back to the country?' he said, as they travel back to Malaysia regularly to visit his parents.  "Or would this... would this mean that I may somehow be deported?"

Looking at his sons he added, "I worry the  most about my family, because these kids are from here, you know?  They are born here, you know?  They wouldn't know Malaysia as home."

From the beginning, Zanial says he felt safe he had the proof they'd done nothing wrong that day at the lake.

"When people discriminate (against) you, what are the chances that you're going to have your phone out and, you know, taking photos or doing videos?" he asked.  "But we just happen to have those."

In court paperwork, Zanial said he believed the guard was suspicious because of his race and his religion.

Two years later, after the FBI investigation ended with no charges and his lawsuit is settled with Association, Zanial says he's not sure he'd stay in the States if it weren't for his boys.

At the same time, he says, he's learned a lot about fighting for his rights and the people around him.

"We received great support from people...that are encouraging us to proceed with the case, to go further, you know, defending our rights," he smiled.

Zanial says he's donating the money from the settlement to the ACLU, which represented him in the lawsuit, so the organization can help others like it helped him.

His attorney says this lawsuit has broadened Kansans' rights in cases where the law is called based purely on religion or race.

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