Constitutional Law

ACLU Says Hundreds Have Been Arrested and Jailed in Denver on Warrants for Other Suspects

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More than 500 people were mistakenly arrested and jailed in Denver over a recent seven-year period, and the actual number may be much higher than can now be documented because of a lack of records of mistaken arrests, contends a motion filed in federal civil rights litigation.

Many of the arrests could have been avoided, or at least corrected before the suspect spent days in jail, if officials had checked basic identifiying information, says the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado in a motion seeking judgment in favor of the plaintiffs in several false-arrest suits.

The ACLU says some arrested suspects have been of the wrong race, the wrong gender, decades younger than the individual actually sought or lacking identifying marks, such as tattoos. Some also allegedly did not match the fingerprints on file for the correct suspect or had a different date of birth, reports the Denver Post.

Stolen identities can also be a significant problem. One man was mistakenly arrested twice on a warrant for a different individual, despite the fact that their tattoos didn’t match, and had to hire a lawyer to try to straighten out the tangled records.

Forced to miss work and docked on his paycheck when he was arrested and jailed on a warrant from another suspect’s burglary and sexual assault case, Carlos Alberto Hernandez, 34, said in a court filing that he feared losing his job and had problems with his girlfriend due to the nature of the charges, the newspaper reports.

County and local officials admit mistakes are sometimes made, but said they occur in only a small fraction of the overall cases, the Post reports. They also argue that the mistakes fall short of the “deliberate indifference” standard that must be met to establish a constitutional violation.

Legal director Mark Silverstein of the ACLU of Colorado says there should be a procedure in place to check promptly to see whether the identifying information and description matches when a suspect is brought in.

The ACLU says hundreds of the mistaken-identity jailings could have been avoided or curtailed if such checks had been made promptly.

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