Carlos Alberto Hernandez spent five days in a Colorado jail – even though he’d committed no crimes and had no warrant out for his arrest. “I also lived in fear that I was going to be terminated from my employer due to the missed work and the accusations about the sexual assault charges,” Hernandez told the Denver Post. “I had problems and numerous arguments with my girlfriend because of the accusation that I was guilty of sexual assault and a sex offender.”
Carlos isn’t the only one. In 2007, Stephen Tendell was arrested after police booked a man who’d stolen his identity, who then failed to appear in court. Police refused to verify his identity, even though he’d filed the initial police report against the identity thief.
The stories keep coming – black men arrested on warrants for white offenders with similar names, a man sent to jail despite being a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier than the actual suspect, an 18-year-old arrested on a warrant for a 30-year-old man, even a woman being arrested under the warrant of a man with the same first name. It usually took days for the mistakes to be uncovered, sometimes weeks. According to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU, more than 500 such cases occurred between 2002 and 2009.
And these are just the cases the ACLU was able to identify through an automated system flagging keywords in old court records. (What’s especially troubling is how many of these cases made it in front of a judge, who often immediately dismissed them.) They maintain that many more cases exist, but are difficult to accurately measure due to the lack of any kind of tracking system or accountability.
The City of Denver is defending itself, saying that these cases comprise only a very small number of total arrests. Their lawyers are also pointing to improvements in recent years, including 2007 training meant to better inform police officers of what constituted probable cause for arrest.
Denver isn’t the only US city to be hit with an ACLU lawsuit over wrongful arrests. Just last August, the city of Miami Beach was forced to settle in a suit alleging that local police officers arrested a man as retribution when he reported them for misconduct.
Photo By: grendelkhan