Constitutional Law

Jailed 12 days, man proves his mistaken arrest by dropping pants in court; $88K settlement proposed

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After successfully interviewing for a dream job at a Las Vegas hotel in 2010, Christian Robinson began a nightmare journey through the criminal justice system.

A background check found there was a warrant for his arrest in a felony drug case in Colorado, his home state. So Robinson took a night flight to Denver and went to the city’s police station the next morning to straighten out the mistake.

Although he asked police to compare fingerprints, they took him into custody and let the system sort the situation out, a judge said in court papers. It wasn’t until Robinson spent 12 days in jail and dropped his pants in court to show he didn’t have a Scooby-Doo tattoo on his thigh, as the correct defendant did, that he was released, the Denver Channel reports.

Meanwhile, he lost his job and his Las Vegas application was rejected. Despite his denials, friends and family thought he must have done something wrong or he wouldn’t have been jailed.

Now Robinson and the city’s counsel have tentatively agreed to an $88,530 settlement. It must still be approved by the city council before it is final.

A number of errors contributed to the city’s mistaken arrest of Robinson, including a failure by police to compare his face to an online mug shot of the correct suspect, Michael Cagle. He looked “nothing like Robinson,” an officer testified in a deposition. But he had been using Robinson’s identification, which Robinson had lost years earlier, the station explains.

The original arrest warrant was for Cagle but listed Robinson’s name as his alias. Somehow, the warrant arrived at the sheriff’s office listing only Robinson’s name. However, the unique state identification number for the suspect on the warrant was for Cagle. Noticing this discrepancy, a clerk at the sheriff’s department searched an online database and found a state identification number for Robinson, who had a long-ago arrest on his record. She then substituted Robinson’s SID number for Cagle’s on the warrant, the article reports.

U.S. District Judge Wiley Y. Daniel dismissed Robinson’s suit as far as individual defendants were concerned, finding that they were protected from suit by qualified immunity. However, he said the city could be held liable because it failed to train warrant clerks adequately and didn’t have appropriate procedures in place to check a suspect’s identity when a claim of a mistake was made.

“This presents an obvious potential for constitutional violations,” Daniel wrote, “as a warrant could be changed at the discretion of a … clerk and without any double-checks in a manner that results in the wrong person being arrested and detained.”

See also: “Denver to pay $5K to $52K to settle mistaken-arrest cases blamed on ‘recklessly sloppy police work’”

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