The Denver Post
More than 500 people were wrongly imprisoned in Denver's jails over seven years, with some spending weeks incarcerated or pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit before authorities realized they nabbed the wrong person, a federal court filing shows.
Civil-rights lawyers suing the city and county of Denver assert the documented mistaken-identity arrests "are the tip of the iceberg" and are an undercount of the true magnitude of the problem.
In one case a black man spent nine days in jail after he was arrested on a warrant for a white man wanted on a sex-crimes arrest warrant.
In another, authorities arrested an 18- year-old when they were searching for a man 30 years older.
A white man was hauled in even when the suspect actually was an American Indian who was nearly a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier. He wasn't released until almost a month had passed and not until the victim of the crime alerted authorities at a court hearing that they had the wrong suspect.
Another man was jailed twice on a warrant for second-degree burglary and sexual assault even though his tattoos didn't match the real suspect's, described in the arrest warrant.
"I missed five full days of work and lost five days of wages due to my first mistaken- identity arrest," Carlos Alberto Hernandez, now 34, stated in a declaration filed with the court.
"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. I had problems and numerous arguments with my girlfriend because of the accusation that I was guilty of sexual assault and a sex offender."
City officials say the documented mistakes make up a fraction of the more than 33,000 inmates incarcerated at the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Facility last year. They say they strive to avoid detaining the wrong suspects but concede that mistakes do happen.
"The best we can do is set up processes so these get addressed immediately, and that's what we've done," said Denver police Lt. Matt Murray.
The mistaken-identity arrests are detailed in a 216-page motion filed at the U.S. District Court in Denver by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado.
Motion blasts lax tracking system
The wrongful arrests in Denver occurred for a variety of reasons. Often those wrongly held had the same names as criminals, but authorities failed to check their dates of birth. Some were wrongly arrested because their identities had been stolen. In other cases, the last name matched but not the first or middle.
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Sunday, January 08, 2012
The Denver Post