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St. Louis alderman calls for investigation into wrongful arrests
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St. Louis alderman calls for investigation into wrongful arrests

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Cells in the St. Louis Justice Center are shown on Sept. 17, 2002. Photo by Ken Shimizu of the Post-Dispatch.

ST. LOUIS • Alderman Antonio French is calling for colleagues to open an investigation into scores of wrongful arrests uncovered by the Post-Dispatch.

French said he plans to introduce a resolution this week to ask for an inquiry by the Board of Aldermen, noting that “when there’s gross negligence or criminal acts, we should be looking into it.”

Results of a yearlong newspaper investigation, published late last month, discovered that mistakenly arrested individuals spent more than 2,000 days wrongfully locked up over a roughly seven-year period. One man spent a total of 211 days behind bars in error.

Failure by police and other officials to pay close attention to results of fingerprints taken at an initial arrest sets up many of the problems, reporters found. Suspects were able to lie about their identities without detection, setting up subsequent wrongful arrests of the people whose names were used.

French said the arrest investigation would be similar to what the aldermen did in 2011, after a series of jailbreaks and other dysfunction within the corrections department, or more recently, after two parks officials pleaded guilty of stealing nearly $500,000 in city funds.

“Unfortunately, I have not heard the outrage I would expect from that story,” French said. “The political reality here is too many key individuals care more about preserving their relationship with the mayor than about serving these people.”

Mayor Francis Slay said Tuesday that his administration has been proactive on the issue.

“We are happy to expose and explain and to share information about all of those things, and I think we have done that,” he said.

Police Chief Sam Dotson said in an email, “It is important that the public is assured that we have the right person in jail for the right reason. I know we are much better at that today than we were seven years, five years, three years, and even a year ago.”

Susan Ryan, a spokesperson for Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, responded to a reporter’s questions with an email that said: “We share the Alderman’s desire to regularly review processes, policies and procedures to ensure government agencies are working efficiently and effectively on behalf of its citizens. Should any member of this committee choose to reach out to us regarding this matter, we would be happy to share our observations with them.”

Immediately after the story was published, Joyce and Eddie Roth, a top aide to Slay, sharply criticized the reporting, calling it flawed and an attempt to dramatize a problem that is rare and under control.

A filing in a federal civil suit recently revealed that St. Louis police and corrections employees described — under oath and in internal communications — troubling practices such as booking a person of uncertain identity to see if the charges “stick.” Those employees also described staffing and training issues, and “continued” arrest and booking mistakes.

A quarter of the men and women identified by the newspaper as victims were held repeatedly. More than a dozen were locked up even though the right suspect was already behind bars.

Approximately 100 cases found by the Post-Dispatch represented just a snapshot of the problem, with some records unavailable, too expensive to retrieve or simply wrong. Records are so convoluted that even officials cannot always say with certainty who spent time in jail for what crime.

“Whether it affects 200 individuals or 50 individuals, if the problem is a procedural problem, it needs to be fixed, and any other response is just denial,” said French, who represents the 21st Ward.

“The shameful thing is that it can happen and will continue to happen to 50, or 100, or 200 of these folks. But if it happens once to the wrong person ... someone who is affluent, then changes will happen,” he complained.

Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri, said Tuesday that, “From the ACLU’s perspective, the city of St. Louis needs to take responsibility for its improper procedures, and frankly, for its incompetence.

“When someone’s record, reputation and liberty are at stake, there is an affirmative responsibility by the city to get it right. Past errors are errors that need to be corrected.”

Adolphus Pruitt, head of the St. Louis chapter of the NAACP, said its executive committee found city officials’ “lack of sympathy towards the parties that were wrongly incarcerated ... appalling.”

He has also raised homeland security concerns on the federal level, he said, focusing on criminals’ ability to exploit holes in the identity verification process.

Alderman Phyllis Young, chair of the public safety committee, called the revelation of wrongful arrests “very upsetting.” She said that while she was reluctant to do anything on the committee level because of pending litigation, there should be new efforts to address the problem.

“I can only imagine the trauma that people experiencing this have gone through,” Young said.

The city and police face two civil suits and a potential class action, based on what private lawyers say are more than 80 wrongful arrest cases they discovered with their own research.

In some other cities, such lawsuits have saddled officials with four- to five-figure settlements or judgments for each case.

Nicholas J.C. Pistor of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.


EDITOR'S NOTE: The number of wrongful arrests found has been adjusted since the original version of this story.


Listed below are about 100 men and women who were mistakenly arrested in recent years. An asterisk indicates that the person was wrongfully arrested on one case but likely would have been held on another charge anyway, the jail time is unknown or the person was arrested but not booked into jail.

Most names came from a public records request for judges' orders that police check the fingerprints of people whose identity was in doubt. Reporters compared court and jail records to determine the length of incarceration.

The information is based on records that can be inconsistent or inaccurate. Reporters confirmed information when possible.

Click on a row in the database to read more about that case.

Person Wanted Person Arrested Arrests Year(s) Arrested Days Held
Anderson, Keith Anderson, Keith 1 2009 32

Additional information

Despite a different birth date and Social Security number, one Keith Anderson was arrested in place of another on a child sex charge. He was released after a fingerprint comparison order was sought; the comparison was never completed because prosecutors recognized the error.

Anderson, Tarron Anderson, Terrell 1 2012 1

Additional information

Tarron Anderson was in prison when Terrell Anderson was arrested on Tarron's warrant despite questions raised by Terrell and his wife in advance of the arrest.

Armstead, Lance Thomas, Christopher 1 2007 *

Additional information

Lance Armstead used Christopher Thomas' name as an alias. While a fingerprint warning went out the day of the arrest, Thomas was charged anyway.

Arnold, Leonard Arnold, Antonio 2 2006, ’08 211

Additional information

Leonard B. Arnold was arrested in October 2005, and used the name of his brother, Antonio Arnold. An email from St. Louis police that day corrected the name to Leonard. But it was Antonio who was arrested on March 25, 2006, after prosecutors filed a drug possession charge in the wrong name. He spent a year in jail. In 2008, he was arrested again and spent more time in jail.

Beckton, Larry Hubbard, Myron 2 2007, ’08 16

Additional information

Myron Hubbard's name somehow got attached to Larry Beckton's two cases for driving with a suspended license. Warrants were repeatedly served on both men as the cases progressed, and Hubbard was arrested at least twice on them. He also had his own pending charges. Beckton was in custody, or on home confinement with electronic monitoring, on a federal case for much of this time period.

Turner, Lamarcus Bills, Timothy 1 2009 *

Additional information

Lamarcus Turner was mistakenly held on Timothy Bills' case. A judge noted the mistake on a case where Bills was mistakenly arrested on Turner's case. No further details are known.

Black, Jimmy Black, Johnny 2 2009, ’10 93

Additional information

Johnny Black somehow was twice arrested on a warrant for Jimmy Black's drug charge. He would have spent far less time in jail if errors weren't made during the fingerprint comparison process and if officials had corrected the problem the first time around.

Blankinship, Leroy Kennet Blankinship, Le'Andre 1 2007 25

Additional information

For unclear reasons, Le'Andre Blankinship was arrested in April 2007 on charges intended for Leroy Blankinship. Le'Andre was released after a fingerprint comparison cleared up the mistake.

Body, Candace Body, Willanda 1 2008 23

Additional information

Willanda Body is arrested on warrant for Candace Body, whose aliases included the name Willanda. The real Willanda is released after judge orders a fingerprint comparison.

Boone, Jessie Boone, Abdul Malik 1 2005 23

Additional information

Abdul Boone was arrested on March 13, 2005, in Jessie Boone's felony drug case.

Kirksey, Anthony Brooks, Thomas 1 2012 *

Additional information

Anthony Kirksey was arrested and used Thomas Brooks' name in a felony drug arrest on May 9, 2012. Authorities thought Kirskey had been mistakenly arrested on Brooks' case, and released him from the case, although he was still held in jail on his own charge. Brooks was then charged, with the drug case as well as his own murder case. After a reporter began asking about the case, authorities learned Kirksey was the intended suspect all along. Prosecutors dismissed the case.

Brown, Norman Williams, Jermaine 1 2007 *

Additional information

Jermaine Williams spent 10 days in jail on one of Norman Brown's misdemeanor trespassing cases, while he was wanted on a warrant for his own case. Norman apparently had been using Jermaine's name as an alias. The mix-up also caused confusion in another of Norman's cases.

Card, Nathaniel Card, Patrick 1 2007 3

Additional information

Nathaniel F. Card was arrested but an identifying number matching Patrick Card, one of his aliases, was used on documents. A police email alerted officials to a problem, but it was not heeded. Nathaniel was charged more than two months after his first arrest. Patrick was arrested in 2007 but was cleared by a fingerprint comparison.

Carroll, Courtney Harden, Milton 5 2009, ’10, ’10, ’11, ’11 20

Additional information

Courtney Carroll apparently used Milton Harden's name as an alias. After learning of the mix-up, officials never corrected their records or took measures to ensure the mistake didn't happen again. Harden was jailed five times on the case, including some instances in which he was listed under both his own case and Carroll's.

Carter, Darrin Carter, Darrick 1, * 2011, ’11 1

Additional information

Darrin Carter was incarcerated at the St. Louis Justice Center on a domestic assault case when he allegedly damaged jail property. He was released on May 20, 2011, the same day Darrick Carter was charged with the crime, likely because of a clerical error. Darrick was arrested and held twice in the case, once after the problem was supposedly sorted out. Darrin is still wanted on the case.

Conner, Steven Conners, Stephan D. 1 2007 25

Additional information

Stephan D. Conners was arrested in December 2007 on a warrant for Steven Conner, who was in jail on another case at the time. The reason for the mistake in unclear, although the men have similar names.

Craig, Danny Craig, Andre 1 2011 63

Additional information

No aliases are listed in court documents for Danny Craig, but Andre Craig was arrested in his place on Oct. 5, 2011, for unclear reasons. He was released Jan. 26, 1012, after a fingerprint comparison was ordered.

Crews, Jonathan Jones, Verntez 2 2002, ’03 2

Additional information

Jonathan Crews' use of an alias triggered the arrest of Verntez Jones at least twice. Jones said that he has been arrested more than that, spending months in jail, but records are incomplete or unavailable.

Crumble, Mark Jones, Travis 1 2009 76

Additional information

Mark Crumble was already in jail when Travis Jones was mistakenly arrested on his case on Nov. 7, 2009. Jones was released on Jan. 22, 2010, after what court files say were two fingerprint comparison orders. Files claim Jones was using Crumble's name as an alias.

Curtis Clark, Tony Fernandez, Joseph 1 2007 *

Additional information

Tony Clark used Joseph Fernandez' name as an alias, causing a case to be charged to the wrong person even though an alias notification email was sent out that day. Fernandez was wrongfully arrested after Clark failed to appear in court. Fingerprint comparisons were ordered three times because of problems at the police station.

Daniels, Markel Daniels, Darren 1 2012 2

Additional information

Darren Daniels was arrested on a warrant for Markel Daniels' felony drug charge because his name was listed as an alias for Markel. His identifying number was mistakenly placed on the warrant for Markel's arrest.

Davis, James Davis, Fred 2 2001, '08 3

Additional information

Fred Davis was charged with James David's misdemeanor receiving-stolen-property case, and paid a $2,500 surety bond to get out after an unknown length of time in jail. Officials became aware of the error the day after charges, and prosecutors tried to amend the case to name James. But the changes were not made by the court, and a warrant went out for Fred. The same thing happened the following year. It took Fred's attorney to finally straighten out the mess. Fred was in jail for three days the second time -- during that time, James was also incarcerated in St. Louis on another case. James ultimately pleaded guilty to the charge, as well as to a charge of making a false declaration.

Davis, Troy King, Isom 1 2010 *

Additional information

Isom King was arrested on a warrant for Troy King's felony marijuana charge, while Troy was already in jail on Isom's state traffic ticket case.

Dismukes, Donnie UNKNOWN 1 2007 5

Additional information

A person was arrested and booked as Donnie Dismukes in April 2007, and ordered released after an error was identified. Unclear reasons. The wrong person had been turned in on the same case by a bail bondsman in 2004, files show.

Drummer, Tavales Drummer, Tiller 1 2007 8

Additional information

Tavales Drummer was arrested and used the name of his brother, Tiller Drummer. Tiller was arrested, and released after a fingerprint comparison order. The case was dropped.

Easley, Edward Easley, Donald 1 2006 *

Additional information

Donald Easley was arrested and held for nearly six months on his brother, Edward's, drug case, although it appears he might have spent that time in jail regardless on his own stealing case, which Edward mistakenly was charged and arrested on. During that time, Edward apparently showed up to court on the case repeatedly, and was ordered to the police station several times for fingerprints. He was turned away twice because he didn't have the needed identification.

Easley, Donald Easley, Edward 3 2004, ’05, ’06 2

Additional information

Edward Easley was charged and twice arrested on his brother, Donald's, 2004 drug case, first spending an unknown amount of time in jail, then one day. He was also charged with Donald's 2005 stealing case, and spent a night in jail on it as a result. The confusion persisted through 2007, despite Edward having his own name tattooed on his arm.

Edwards, Juan Byrd, Patrick 1 2010 29

Additional information

On April 9, 2010, a judge ordered Patrick Byrd released, saying he was arrested under the name of his brother, Juan Edwards. Byrd had spent 29 days in jail in Edwards' case even though Edwards was already in jail at the time.

Flenoy, Victor Combs, Walter 1 2008 22

Additional information

Walter Combs was arrested on a probation violation warrant for Flenoy. The reasons were unclear, but use of an alias had caused a problem in a 2011 case, and may have caused problems in a 2007 case.

Franks, Darryl Franks, Darryl 1 2011 11

Additional information

Darryl Franks Jr. fled from a stolen car and was caught with a loaded .357 Magnum pistol. He was convicted at trial in 2009. After he allegedly violated probation terms, a different Darryl Franks was arrested for it on Oct. 7, 2011. He was ordered released on Oct. 18, 2011.

Freeman, Tabair Wynn, Christopher 1 2008 2

Additional information

Tabair Freeman used Christopher Wynn's name as an alias. Wynn was charged, then arrested, despite a fingerprint comparison warning sent to prosecutors, police and others the day after charges were issued.

George, Taryll Toney, Shanl 2 2006, ’07 23

Additional information

Tarryl George used Shanl Toney's name as an alias, and charges went out in Toney's name the next month despite a fingerprint mismatch warning email that went out within 24 hours of the arrest. Someone else was then wrongfully arrested again a year later on the case – it's unclear whether it was Toney or another Taryll George who was not the intended suspect.

Griffin, Ricky Willis, Carl 2 2009, ’10 2

Additional information

Ricky Griffin used the name of his half-brother, Carl Lee Willis, after an arrest in a marijuana case. For some reason, a warrant for Carl E. Willis went out when Griffin failed to appear in court. It's not clear if Carl E. Willis was arrested, but the mistake was fixed. Carl Lee Willis was later arrested, then released after the mistake was recognized. He was arrested again in 2010, although it's not clear if he spent a night in jail. Only then was the name on the case fixed.

Gruver, Keith Ham, Larry 1 2011 *

Additional information

Ham (alternately listed as Hamm) was mistakenly arrested for Gruver for unclear reasons. He was cleared by a fingerprint comparison. It was not clear whether Ham would have been in jail anyway.

Guy, Shem Guy, Shea 1 2011 *

Additional information

Shea Guy was charged for unknown reasons. He was arrested but prosecutors dropped the case after a fingerprint comparison.

Hale, James Haley, John 1 2004 1

Additional information

John A. Haley was picked up on James Edward Hale's assault case after a warrant went out in 2001 with his name instead of Hale's. Haley spent a day in jail. The mistake was corrected in April 2005. Haley sued Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, but the case was dismissed after he died.

Hamilton, Eugene Smith, Jeffrey 1 2009 116

Additional information

Jeffrey Smith was arrested Aug. 10, 2009, on charges for Eugene Hamilton for unclear reasons. The first fingerprint comparison request was either ignored or the results were not in the court file. A judge ordered that Smith be released from jail but he wasn't until more than a month after prosecutors realized that he is the wrong defendant. The case is still pending; Hamilton has not been arrested.

Harrison, Roselind Harrison, Rosolind 2 2008, ’13 56

Additional information

Twins with almost identical first names have been confused more than once. In 2011, prosecutors used the wrong local ID in charging documents, triggering or contributing to the mistaken arrest.

Hill, Sidney Roundtree, Kenneth 1 2012 7

Additional information

Kenneth Roundtree, a listed alias for Sidney Hill, was arrested on a warrant intended for Hill, who was in prison at the time.

Hittler, John Hittler, Joseph 1 2010 *

Additional information

Joseph and John Hittler were both in jail at the same time on John's May 2010 drug case, which was originally charged to Joseph. The jail only has a record of John's stay. It's unclear how it happened.

Holmes, Antonio L. Holmes, Antonio 1 2006 4

Additional information

Due to name confusion, the wrong Antonio Holmes was arrested on a statutory rape charge but was released after fingerprint comparison.

Jackson, Cedric Jackson, Cedric 1 2011 1

Additional information

Name confusion led to the wrong Cedric being arrested on a warrant.

Jackson, Dwayne Jackson, Dwayne 2 2010, ’11 100

Additional information

Dwayne Jackson was arrested twice on a case belonging to another person with the same name, for an unknown reason. The first time he spent about a month in jail; the second time about two months. The case has since been dismissed. Prosecutors declined to say why.

Johnson, Antoine Johnson, Antonio 1 2010 17

Additional information

Antonio Johnson was arrested on Antoine Johnson's case. Officials said the names were a close match and aliases were used in past.

Johnson, Kenneth Covington, Nathaniel 1 2006 7

Additional information

Nathaniel Covington was originally charged in the case. He was indicted Jan. 30, 2006, as Kenneth Johnson a.k.a Covington and Tyrone Dunn. A St. Louis police email Dec. 2, 2005, may have prompted the name change. Covington arrested around Oct. 31, 2006, and posted bail. Covington was released from the case when his fingerprints don't match the defendant's.

Johnson, Markise Johnson, Anthony G. 1 2011 31

Additional information

Markise Johnson was arrested and used the name Bobby Madison. An email from St. Louis police indicated there may have been problems. After Johnson died, police kept trying to arrest Madison, resulting in at least three mistaken arrests, including this arrest of Anthony Johnson. Case information is still not correct.

Johnson, Markise Madison, Bobby 2 2011, ’11, 8

Additional information

Markise Johnson was arrested and used the name Bobby Madison. An email from St. Louis police indicated there may have been problems. After Johnson died, police kept trying to arrest Madison, resulting in at least three mistaken arrests, including two of Bobby Madison. Case information is still not correct.

Johnson, Oliver M. Johnson, Oliver C. 2 2005, ’11 22

Additional information

Oliver C. Johnson was twice arrested on warrants and jailed in a 2005 drug case against Oliver M. Johnson. Oliver M. was at one point held in jail in St. Louis at the same time on another case. Oliver C. pleaded guilty to several of Oliver M.'s municipal charges in order to finally get released, then was held a few more days on an Oliver M. St. Louis County case. An alias notification intended to correct the problem was sent the day of Oliver M's initial arrest.

Lee, Evarn Jackson, Yvonne 1 2008 1

Additional information

Yvonne Jackson was charged July 1, 2004, but Evarn Lee's later appears on release documents. Jackson was arrested in January of 2008 and released on a summons. A fingerprint order later that month appears to have resulted in the dismissal of case.

Leonard, Corey Wright, Cedric 1 2011 61

Additional information

Cedric Wright was arrested on theft charges. His name matched an alias used by Corey Leonard, and he was booked on Leonard's three felony cases. A judge in one of the cases ordered Wright released after realizing the mistake. But a different judge presided over the other cases and Wright slipped through the cracks until he wrote a letter to the public defender's office.

Like, Harold Like, Dwayne 1 2005 1

Additional information

Harold Like was ticketed after a traffic accident. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two days in jail. A warrant was issued for Harold after he failed to make a payment owed in the case, and Dwayne Like was arrested for unknown reasons. Fingerprints cleared Dwayne.

McCray, Darrell UNKNOWN 1 2011 2

Additional information

The wrong person was arrested on a probation violation for Darrell McCray and then released after two days.

McCreight, Karif Ward, Zackary 1 2012 42

Additional information

Ward arrested in 2012 on a probation violation warrant in McCreight's case. The men's names were linked in 2009, when McCreight was charged with a case that should have been Ward's. Ward claims he didn't use McCreight as an alias – that police found McCreight's ID on him and wouldn't believe that Ward wasn't McCreight. Some file information in the cases has still not been corrected.

McDaniel, Brian L. McDaniel, Jerry 2 2005, ’07 102

Additional information

Jerry McDaniel was charged and arrested twice over three years after Brian McDaniel used his name as an alias. An email went out the day of charges notifying officials of the mistake. Fingerprint comparisons released Jerry after each wrongful arrest.

McGrew, Tramien Lockhart, Truman 3 2004, ’04, ’07 4

Additional information

Tramien McGrew was arrested Dec. 19, 2003, and gave his name as Truman Lockhart, his cousin. Lockhart was charged Jan. 7, 2004, with crack cocaine possession. An email from St. Louis police correcting the information was not heeded. On Jan. 21, 2004, the warrant was amended to Tramien McGrew, but the birth date and Social Security number were not changed. Truman was arrested for his cousin twice before Tramien pleaded guilty and once later, when Tramien's probation was suspended and a warrant for him was issued.

McNeal, Shannon Racquel McNeal, Shannon Renee 1 2009 1

Additional information

Shannon Raquel McNeal was arrested and charged. A clerical error created case information in the name of wrong woman, Shannon Renee McNeal. After being notified of the real defendant's death, a judge issued an arrest warrant, and the wrong woman was arrested and jailed. Prosecutors have said Shannon Renee would not have been in the system, and therefore a victim of the mistake, had she not committed a prior municipal offense.

Miller, Christopher Williams, Sylvester 1 2013 2

Additional information

Christopher Miller was charged Feb. 17, 2010, with drug offenses. He pleaded guilty and his case was transferred to a drug court, where he failed to meet conditions. A resulting warrant resulted in the arrest of Sylvester Williams for unknown reasons. Police notified prosecutors, who alerted the judge.

Mills, Brad Mills, Michael 1 2007 5

Additional information

Brad Mills was arrested Oct. 5, 2006, and charged as Michael Mills. A police email about fingerprints the day of arrest tried to correct the name to Brad Mills but was not heeded. Michael was arrested on a warrant when Brad failed to show up for court, but a fingerprint comparison cleared him.

Minor, Courtney Minor, Charles 2 2009, ’10 5

Additional information

Courtney Minor was charged with a driving offense on July 24, 2001. Charles Minor, his brother, was arrested at least twice by mistake, in 2009 and 2010. In 2010, a clerk was ordered to “enter the proper information per the July 9, 2009, order.”

Mitchell, Terrance Scaife, James 1 2008 12

Additional information

Terrance Mitchell gave James Scaife's name as an alias in his May 8, 2008, drug case, causing a warrant to be issued for Scaife, despite a warning of the mistake sent the next day.

Moore, Melissa Gurlly, Nancy 1 2010 1

Additional information

In October 2010, Nancy Gurlly was arrested and held for a day, then had to appear in court several times, in Melissa Moore's 2001 stealing case. The problem, of unclear origins, was sorted out in early 2011, then the case languished.

Mottley, Ronald Unknown 1 2007 15

Additional information

Ronald D. Mottley was arrested and gave his name as Karon Patton. A police email correcting information on Feb. 7, 2007, was not heeded. A warrant was issued Feb. 16, 2007, for Patton with the alias Randall Jones for skipping court. Patton or Jones (it is not clear which) was arrested but a print comparison cleared it up.

Niles, John Kinnard, Marlo 3 2008, ’09, ’09 21

Additional information

John Niles was arrested in November 2006 on burglary and other charges but used the name of his brother, Marlo Kinnard. Prosecutors charged Kinnard the next day. Niles remained in jail until he pleaded guilty, as Kinnard, in May 2007 and received probation. Kinnard was mistakenly arrested three times on the case after Niles violated his probation: Feb. 17, 2008, Feb. 9, 2009, and Nov. 9, 2009. Each time, the mistake was recognized and the warrant was re-issued for Kinnard, a.k.a. Niles and other aliases. Niles eventually was arrested and sentenced to 11 years in prison. The case remains in Kinnard's name.

Nunley, Travis Nunley, Michael 1 2012 2

Additional information

Michael Nunley was arrested on a warrant for his brother Travis Nunley while Travis was already in jail. The reasons were unclear.

Parson, Twona Robins, Tanya 1 2007 1

Additional information

Tanya Robins was charged in a 2005 case intended for Twona Parson. Robins was later arrested but her fingerprints didn't match original person arrested, The case name changed to Twona Parson.

Richards, Wheeler Thompson, Jamieko 1 2011 2

Additional information

Somehow JamiekoThompson was arrested on an at-large warrant for Wheeler Richards. Richards had used Thompson's name as an alias in the past. Thompson was released after two days, based on a fingerprint comparison, and the case languished.

Scott, Damon Scott, Shon 1 2012 6

Additional information

For an unknown reason, Shon Scott arrested on warrant issued for Damon Scott when he failied to show up for court.

Sewell, Will Dondi, Baldwin 1 2007 2

Additional information

Dondi Baldwin was held on Sewill's 2003 drug case, but released after a print comparison. Alias use may have contributed.

Shaw, Remirus Shaw, Reginald 1 2007 18

Additional information

Remirus Shaw was arrested May 12, 2007, but gave his name as Reginald Shaw. A police email correcting name was not heeded before Reginald's arrest. Reginald was ordered released and name corrected, but there was a long delay first.

Smith, Markus Smith, Mark A. 1 2007 92

Additional information

Mark A. Smith was jailed on a warrant for Markus Smith, who failed to appear in court. The reasons are unclear. The fingerprints don't match and the case was dismissed.

Spann, Larry B. Bailey, Larry 1 2007 29

Additional information

Larry Spann was arrested and pleaded guilty to drug charges in 2005. For unknown reasons, Larry Bailey was arrested in the same case in January 2007. After a fingerprint comparison order on Feb. 13, 2007, Bailey was ordered released from jail.

Stanley, Robert Stanley, Ronald 2 2005, ’11 13

Additional information

Both Robert and Ronald Stanley were in jail at the same time on the same charge in 2005. A judge ordered Ronald released. He was also ordered released after a 2011 arrest.

Stanley, Ronald Stanley, Robert 1 2005 3

Additional information

Robert Stanley was arrested in September 2005 and fingerprint results indicated that the defendant was really Ronald.

Sutton, Jarrell Sutton, Ricardo 1 2008 6

Additional information

Ricardo Sutton was charged in Jarrell Sutton's felony drug possession case after Jarrell used his name as an alias. Ricardo was arrested and held six days. Meanwhile, Jarrell was in custody on his own case.

Thomas, Daniel Thomas, Jason 1 2007 117

Additional information

Jason Thomas was somehow arrested in a case while Daniel Thomas was already in jail on it. After officials were alerted to the contradiction, it took four more months for Jason to be released, based on a fingerprint comparison. Court records also referred to Jason Thomas as Jason Daniels at one point.

Townes, Larry Scales, Samuel 1 2011 2

Additional information

Samuel Scales was arrested Dec. 18, 2008, on a warrant for a property damage case against Larry Lamar Towns Jr. An fingerprint warning went out that day, but the error wasn't corrected until Feb. 13, 2012. A warrant is still out for Towns' arrest.

Townsend, Deandre Townsend, Edward 1 2011 26

Additional information

Edward Townsend was somehow arrested in Deandre Townsend's case on April 8, 2011. A fingerprint comparison was ordered April 14, 2011, and Edward was released May 4, 2011, after 26 days.

Travis, Larry Travis, Daniel 1 2009 22

Additional information

Daniel Travis was arrested on a bench warrant for Larry Travis' case, and held for 22 days in the spring of 2009.

Tucker, Devera Williams, Marquita 1 2008 4

Additional information

Devera Tucker was arrested on a forgery charge and confessed to police, using Marquita Williams' name. An email correcting Tucker's information was not heeded before charges were issued. A 2008 fingerprint comparison order, issued over prosecutors' objections, cleared Williams.

Turner, Antonio Pratt, Wendell 1 2008 13

Additional information

Turner pleaded guilty to cocaine possession on July 1, 2005. Pratt was picked up on Turner's probation revocation on Jan. 4, 2008. A judge ordered a fingerprint comparison and Pratt was released 13 days later.

Turner, Deon Marcus Turner, Demarkus 1 2008 28

Additional information

Demarkus Turner was charged, and later arrested on a failure-to-appear warrant, after Deon apparently used his name. A fingerprint comparison was delayed when police said they needed more information.

Turner, Lamarcus Bills, Timothy 1 2009 *

Additional information

Timothy Bills was served a warrant on Lamarcus Turner's probation violation. It appears from court records that both were in jail during the same time frame, although the jail showed only Bills in custody. A judge later noted that Turner was in custody on Bills' case.

UNKNOWN Hart, Travis 2 2006, ’10 5

Additional information

After an arrest, a police email said the name provided by the suspect was wrong. Travis Hart was charged and someone arrested. Hart was arrested twice, the second time after officials knew that the ID of defendant wasn't clear.

UNKNOWN Holmes, Jon 1 2007 6

Additional information

Someone gave Holmes' name in multiple traffic stops in 2006 and 2007. When that man failed to appear for scheduled court hearings, a judge issued a warrant and Holmes was arrested Jan. 27, 2007. He was released on bond, and the mistake was cleared up later that year. Prosecutors dropped charges in all four cases.

UNKNOWN Hoye, Willie 1 2011 *

Additional information

An unknown person was arrested Nov. 19, 2005, and gave his name as Willie Hoye. Hoye was later arrested, but the prints didn't match and prosecutors dropped the case.

UNKNOWN Polk, Verndemico 1 2013 1

Additional information

Verndemico Polk was charged and held for a day on a drug case that officials later determined wasn't his. His bail was refunded. A warrant was re-issued for Verndemico Polk and then prosecutors dismissed the case.

Ward, Zackary McCreight, Karif 1 2011 21

Additional information

Ward claims he didn't use McCreight as an alias – that police found McCreight's ID on him and wouldn't believe that Ward wasn't McCreight. Regardless, McCreight was arrested in 2011 on a probation violation warrant that was meant for Ward. Some file information in their cases has not been corrected.

Washington, David Washington, David 2 2008, '08 80

Additional information

David Washington was arrested and held twice on warrants for a misdemeanor traffic case belonging to another David Washington. It caused problems in his own case and extended the time he spent in jail.

Webster, Ladon Pordos, Eron 1 2008 1

Additional information

Ladon Webster used his brother's name, Eron Pordos,. when he was arrested June 22, 2008. A St. Louis police email the next day that corrected the name was not heeded.

Whitt, David Whitt, James 4 2005, ’06, ’08, ’08 44

Additional information

James Whitt was charged with a felony gun case after David Whitt used his name as an alias. James was repeatedly arrested and released during the case period, as was David for reasons unclear from court records. During several months, the case name changed back and forth repeatedly between David and James. The confusion may have affected, or been influenced by, other state traffic cases against James.

Williams, Herman Williams, Charles 2 2012, ’13 5

Additional information

Warrants on Herman Williams' burglary case inexplicably went out for Charles Williams, who was arrested and held at least once, if not twice (although the second time Charles was held it was under a different date of birth). Herman ultimately pleaded guilty to the charge.

Williams, Rodney A. Jones, Demetrius 1 2006 2

Additional information

Demetrius Jones was charged Aug. 3, 2005, the day after St. Louis police sent out an email correcting the defendant's name to Rodney Allenn Williams. Jones was indicted and warrant issued for him later, after Williams skipped court. Jones was arrested Jan. 15, 2006, and released two days later, after a fingerprint comparison. Prosecutors later corrected the case information to Williams when he pleaded guilty.

Williams, Tonya Crawford, Satonya 1 2007 36

Additional information

Satonya Crawford was arrested and held on Tonya Williams' case when Williams failed to appear in court. She was held at least once for 36 days, possibly up to three times and a total of 84 days.

Willis, Steve Aldridge, Jesse 1 2008 5

Additional information

Steve Willis was charged in an at-large warrant and indicted, but somehow warrants went out for both him and Jesse Aldridge. Aldridge was arrested and held for at least five days and paid bail to get out. A fingerprint comparison cleared his name.

Willis, Steven Perkins, Von Keith 1 2008 *

Additional information

Willis was correctly charged, but a warrant listed an alias of Von Keith Perkins, who was arrested on Willis' case and one of his own. Willis was later arrested. He eventually pleaded guilty and received 70 days in jail.

Willis, William L. Willis, William E. 3 2008, ’09, ’09 43

Additional information

A date of birth error by police caused William E. Willis to be wrongfully arrested three or four times in a case against William L. Willis. The confusion persisted after officials corrected the name mix-up on another William L. Willis case, and after multiple fingerprint comparisons. William L. Willis has only eight fingers, William E. Willis has all 10.

Wilson, Terrell D. Wilson, Terrell D. 1 2009 1

Additional information

A warrant went out with the wrong date of birth, causing the wrong Terrell Wilson to be arrested and held for at least a day. A fingerprint mismatch warning was sent out the day the warrant was issued, but was not heeded.

Wright, Ashley M. Wright, Ashley 1 2009 4

Additional information

The wrong Ashley Wright was arrested in May 2009, after the right Ashley pleaded guilty.

Wright, Daniel Wright, Nathaniel 1 2007 20

Additional information

Daniel Wright was arrested in 2006 for violating an order of protection. He failed to appear for court, was arrested and was released on a summons. He again failed to appear, except this time, Nathaniel Wright was arrested, on Oct. 13, 2007. It's not clear why. Nathaniel was ordered released on Nov. 2, 2007.


EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this list misstated the consequences to Cortez Cooper of his brother's case being filed in his name. Cortez was not held in jail in that case.

 

Jailed
By Mistake

Wrongful arrests jail about 100
people for over 2,000 days

By Robert Patrick & Jennifer S. Mann | Post-Dispatch

October 26, 2013
S

hannon Renee McNeal was torn from her screaming children by police who were seeking a woman with a similar name — a woman who they should have known had been murdered seven months before. ¶ A clerical mistake set up the arrest, sloppy attention to fingerprints put her behind bars and months of indifference to the error cost McNeal her home, $15,000 and, for a while, her job driving a Metro bus.

Yet she may be luckier than scores of others who have been wrongfully arrested and spent weeks, even months, trapped behind bars in a broken St. Louis city justice system. 

The Post-Dispatch has identified about 100 people arrested in error over the past seven years. Collectively, they spent more than 2,000 days in jail — an average of about three weeks each. One man alone was incarcerated 211 days. About a quarter were held repeatedly — one of them, five times — and 15 were locked up while the right suspect was already behind bars. 

Almost all the mistakes could have been prevented — or at least fixed immediately — had authorities paid attention to what fingerprints tried to tell them from the start.

Officials' reaction to McNeal: It was her own fault, because if her name had not been in a criminal justice database, the mistake could not have been made.

Confronted 21 months ago by reporters with examples of several wrongful arrests, Jennifer Joyce, the circuit attorney, and Eddie Roth, a senior aide to Mayor Francis Slay, expressed concern and pledged reforms.

But their response has hardened since the deeper Post-Dispatch investigation.

"I worry about a lot of things. I don't worry about this," Roth said in a recent interview. He said he has faith in the system's ability to correct mistakes.

He insisted that wrongful arrests are merely a byproduct of a system in which suspects have a lot of problems, including "telling the truth."

The Post-Dispatch examination found several recurring problems:

  • Police failed to verify the identity of people they arrested, especially those who provided someone else's name. In almost every wrongful arrest found, police and other officials overlooked a fingerprint report warning that they either had the wrong person or someone who used an alias.
  • The protests of those wrongly arrested often were ignored.
  • Officials failed to differentiate between the people who gave false names and the people who suffered for it. 
  • Authorities downplayed the cases where their own mistake caused a wrongful arrest.
  • Officials failed to correct errors in records, setting up repeated wrongful arrests and leaving authorities unsure of who they were holding or who committed which past crimes.
Click photo to read caption and enlarge.

Roth, Joyce and Police Chief Sam Dotson questioned the accuracy of the newspaper's overall research but provided no data to refute it, even after being given three months to examine the material. They downplayed the significance of the problem and said mistakes were extremely rare in a city with more than 30,000 arrests each year. 

Their denials come 15 years after the police department was put on notice by a federal jury when it awarded $10,000 in damages against a St. Louis police officer for failure to heed a fingerprint mismatch warning.

Now, the city and department are back in federal court, facing two civil suits and a potential class action. The two attorneys planning the class action said they have discovered more than 80 wrongful arrest cases with their own research and believe the actual number could be hundreds.

In some other cities, lawsuits have saddled officials with four- to five-figure settlements or judgments for each case.

The consequences of arrest mistakes can devastate lives, as in McNeal's case.

They fall heavily upon people with little political voice. Many are black and have criminal records for misdemeanors and low-level felonies.

Susan Ryan, a public relations consultant for Joyce, emphasized as much in insisting the problems mainly affect people already "in the system."

"That's an important note for citizens to understand," she added. The average person "isn't driving down the street and being stopped and arrested for something he didn't do."

It reinforces every negative that they've heard, thought and imagined.

When asked whether she was saying people with criminal records are treated differently, Ryan clarified: "I'm not saying that at all. I think that all three agencies would tell you that they take this very seriously, and they don't want anybody wrongly arrested."

But she and Roth later reiterated her initial point.

Dotson noted, "Ultimately, it is our job to make sure we have the right person."

Adolphus Pruitt, president of the St. Louis chapter of the NAACP, said the impact can be immense, costing victims their jobs and starting a "negative domino effect" of consequences.

"If you calculate the psychological and emotional side of being arrested, hauled away and caged for some period of time — and you know you're innocent and you can't get anybody to listen to you, it reinforces the very negative polarizing perception that African-Americans have on the justice system and law enforcement system," he said.

"It reinforces every negative that they've heard, thought and imagined."

'TREATED LIKE A BUG'

Authorities knew when they issued an arrest warrant in 2009 for Shannon Raquel McNeal, 23, that she missed her court date on a drug charge because she had been murdered, according to her lawyer, Kristy Ridings. But they went ahead, pending arrival of a death certificate.

Click photo to read caption and enlarge.

They did not realize that in 2007 a clerk had picked the wrong name off a computer screen. That mistake caused police to look for Shannon Renee McNeal, 37.

The warrant popped up when Ferguson police stopped McNeal on a traffic violation as she was driving her two children and their young friend to the St. Louis Zoo. Despite her protests, she was handcuffed in front of the crying youngsters and taken to jail.

Two routine fingerprint comparisons — one in Ferguson and one in St. Louis — showed she was not the person wanted, but she was booked anyway in a humiliating process that forced her to shower in front of two female guards and be sprayed with a delousing solution.

Not only was she arrested wrongly, she said later, "Now I'm treated like a bug."

Now I'm treated like a bug.

She spent more than a day in custody, assigned by the crowded city workhouse to sleep in a "boat," a makeshift plastic bed, beside a toilet. 

As McNeal fought to clear her name, Metro found out about the arrest and she lost her job for months. She also lost her car and had to leave her home in Northwoods and move in with friends. 

McNeal, who has since returned to her maiden name of Jolliff, figured she had been the only victim. She said she was stunned to learn of so many others.

“But just from what I went through," McNeal added, "it seems likely. It was like they didn't care at all.”

LIES AND MISTAKES

Dotson blamed criminals' "clear intent to cause confusion" for difficulty in establishing someone's identity.

Roth said when wrongful arrests take place, "there's almost always complicity on the part of the person who spent more time (in jail) than they should have."

Many of the mistakes indeed are the legacy of lies told by people who use the names of brothers or cousins or friends to escape trouble.

Yet it's often not the liars who pay the price.

Earlier this year, Cortez Cooper's name appeared on arrest records because his brother, Cecil Cooper, used his name before being released pending charges.

Despite a fingerprint report within 21 hours showing that the wanted man was really Cecil, an arrest warrant was issued two months later for Cortez. Cecil was jailed for 36 days in Cortez's name before Cortez went to court to get his name released from the case.

In 41 of the wrongful arrests the Post-Dispatch uncovered, evidence showed that an alias was used. But only 11 of them had some allegation that the victim of the mistake had used an alias. Clear evidence existed in even fewer. 

I find it hard to believe that everybody using an alias is using one of somebody that looks close to them.

In multiple cases, a clerical error or another mistake by authorities led to the wrong information on an arrest warrant or charging documents.

In roughly half of all the cases, no explanation was given, but many of those wrongfully arrested had the same or similar name or were related to the person actually being sought.

Typically, the victims had routine contact with police, such as a traffic stop, when they were arrested on another person's warrant.

Jonathan Crews, 31, serving 15 years for assaulting a prison guard, was among criminals who told reporters the system is easy to fool.

He said he has repeatedly tricked police by using the names of his brother and childhood best friend. “All it takes is full name and date of birth, no Social Security number,” he said. Crews said he has signed personal recognizance bonds with others' names and triggered at least one mistaken arrest.

Pruitt, of the NAACP, said he cannot understand how the system can be vulnerable to simple lies, noting, "I find it hard to believe that everybody using an alias is using one of somebody that looks close to them.”

IGNORING FINGERPRINTS

Most wrongful arrests could have been avoided if officials simply had checked the results after fingerprinting the original suspect.

Fingerprints on most arrests are sent to the Missouri Highway Patrol for comparison to its database. Any discrepancies are emailed by the city police identification unit — typically within a day — to arresting officers, the jail, the sheriff's department and prosecutors.

In cases discovered by reporters, those warnings were ignored — not just the first time around, but also when the wrong person was subsequently arrested and held. 

And in one instance, police didn't even need to examine the fingerprints, just count them.

A vehicle theft warrant should have gone out for William Lamont Willis, who has only eight fingers. Instead, William Earl Willis, who has all 10 digits, was charged and arrested at least three times, despite multiple fingerprint comparisons.

Click photo to read caption and enlarge.

He was one of several individuals with physical differences that authorities could easily have noticed; a permanently closed eye, for instance, or someone's own name tattooed on his arm.

Milton Harden was arrested five times on his old friend Courtney Carroll's domestic assault case, even though officials ostensibly sorted out the problem each time. Harden spent 100 days in jail total. During much of that time, he was being held as Carroll on the assault case while he was also being held as himself on his own cases. 

"I think the really damning evidence is these multiple arrests,” said James Hacking, one of the lawyers planning the class action suit.

Initial mistakes sometimes led to almost impenetrable confusion, with the wrong people arrested over and over and defendants' names and dates of birth shifting in jail and court records.

Take the case of David Whitt, who used the name of James Whitt in a theft arrest. Despite a fingerprint mismatch, James was charged. Somebody, it's not clear from files who, pleaded guilty. Then both men were arrested for probation violations and held at the same time on the same case.

After the mistake was recognized, the court inexplicably began changing the name on the case back and forth between the men and issued warrants for both. David ultimately answered to the charge, but the file remains under James' name.

The William Willis currently held has TEN fingers. The William Willis charged in the above case has LESS THAN TEN fingers.

Arrest warrants sometimes remain active weeks or months after the right person is in custody — or, in McNeal's case, dead. An audit showed that in February 2012, 15 percent of the 1,972 inmates in the city jails were still listed as wanted on St. Louis warrants.

Defense lawyers said sometimes warrants are not dropped even after their clients are sentenced. So someone on probation could end up arrested anew for the same crime.

Innocent people caught in this vortex beg for help from anyone who will listen. But jails and court dockets are full of liars. Criminal justice workers are left to trust that safeguards in their system work.

Judges' exasperation is sometimes reflected in their court orders.

One, Judge Michael David, freed Sylvester Williams from another man's drug-related case, noting that "even a casual review" of the photos of the two "would clearly indicate to any person (even one of limited mental capacity) that these are not the same two people."

Faced with yet another wrongful arrest of the 10-fingered William Willis, Judge Joan Moriarty provided emphasis in a release order that said he was "determined NOT to be the same person charged in this case. MOST NOTICEABLY the William Willis currently held has TEN fingers. The William Willis charged in the above case has LESS THAN TEN fingers.”

NUMBER UNKNOWN

Nobody in St. Louis keeps track of wrongful arrests, but officials are quick to minimize them, no matter the number. 

After the Post-Dispatch inquired in 2012 about finding evidence of four cases with errors, Roth, then Slay's chief performance officer and a former Post-Dispatch editorial writer, said that problems, while rare, deserved "focused, sustained attention."

Joyce, the circuit attorney, tweeted, "Reassuring: St. Louis = 4, Denver = 600 mistaken arrests."

That referred to an ACLU lawsuit alleging 600 instances in the Colorado capital over seven years, a number now grown to 650.

Roth created a multi-agency team he called PIVOT, but it was quietly dismantled after he decided the problem was mainly with the police and jailers. 

Reassuring:
St. Louis = 4,
Denver = 600
mistaken arrests.

An auditor for the courts produced a 22-page report recommending changes in technology and practices that it said increase the risk of misidentification. Circuit Clerk Jane Schweitzer threw out the report, deeming it "goofy."

The Post-Dispatch persisted to measure the scope of the problem, a difficult task because no central record of such mistakes exists, and, under Missouri law, dismissal of a charge seals the case file.

Prosecutors, police and the mayor's office first ignored questions and public records requests, then provided little cooperation. Joyce complained that her office spent more than 100 "attorney hours" researching the newspaper's findings. In the end, she remarked that most of the cases were "old," and shared conclusions on only seven. 

Roth promised to find out how many cases represented "a nightmare scenario" of someone with no criminal history or aliases being wrongfully jailed for more than 24 hours. Ultimately, he provided no number. He said it appeared, though, that wrongful arrests were "almost to the vanishing point."

Reporters found the approximately 100 that happened over roughly seven years by using limited information that amounts to no more than a sample.

Adjusted for population, those cases represent a rate of about one-third Denver's. But if the lawyers suing the city are correct in their highest estimates, St. Louis could top Denver, per capita.

The St. Louis per capita rate already exceeds that of Los Angeles County, where in 2011 the sheriff's office listed 1,480 wrongful arrests over five years in a jurisdiction of 10 million people.

Sometimes people amputate the wrong leg at Barnes-Jewish. Mistakes happen.

The magnitude here distresses Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, who said, "One is bad enough. A pattern is really bad and needs to be addressed immediately."

He noted, "There is just no excuse for having the wrong person in custody for a day, let alone a few days or months."

Mittman said it is like a hospital that operates on 30 people and boasts of having "only" one accidental amputation. 

Roth separately used a similar analogy to defend the lapses, saying, "Sometimes people amputate the wrong leg at Barnes-Jewish. Mistakes happen."

In health care, an accidental amputation is on the list of what are called "never events," because they are never supposed to occur — and carry serious consequences if they do. 

"There needs to be systemic change,” Mittman said. “I think if you want a definition of a constitutional rights or civil liberties violation, this is it."

A HIDDEN INJUSTICE

Evidence suggests even more mistakes in St. Louis.

For example, sheriff's courtroom ledgers reveal dozens of other cases in which a deputy wrote "wrong person," "wrong defendant" or "arrested in error," but corresponding court files show no sign of a problem. Police said they void 30 to 40 arrests each year for reasons that could include identity errors. 

Roth recently insisted that "the overwhelming majority" of wrongful arrests here are resolved within hours. If that's true, it would mean the cases identified by the Post-Dispatch — all taking place later in the process, after a judge ordered a person's fingerprints be run because of identity questions — are just a fraction of what's really out there.

Our whole system victimizes people who are poor and don't have resources. If it happens to a prominent person, of course you would hear about it immediately.

Samuel Walker, a police accountability expert and emeritus professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, calls it "one of those hidden forms of injustice."  

"Our whole system victimizes people who are poor and don't have resources," he said. "If it happens to a prominent person, of course you would hear about it immediately."

Mark Silverstein, an ACLU lawyer in Denver, agreed, saying, "I'm convinced that this must be a relatively undiscovered issue in any large city's criminal justice system. I think it goes on under the radar."

Defense lawyers said the newspaper's findings are not a surprise, given the problems they see.

St. Louis' top public defender, Mary Fox, said even if the proportion of incidents is small, "it's a very high number" to those affected.

"These aren't the people who complain loudly," she noted, "... because they're used to not being listened to."

Her deputy, Rick Kroeger, called it "disgusting" that officials discount victims with criminal histories.

POLICE 'INDIFFERENCE'

Sharon Kennell's story of wrongful arrest in 1995 is old but significant: She eventually collected money in a lawsuit because St. Louis police didn't heed the notification sent after she was fingerprinted.

She was arrested on a warrant for her sister and jailed for six days while her protests — and the fingerprint report exonerating her — were ignored. 

Counts of her resulting lawsuit that accused the city and police department were dismissed, but a jury in 1998 awarded her $10,000 from a police officer because of "deliberate indifference" to the warning. An appellate court affirmed it. 

"I thought they fixed that after my situation," Kennell said in a recent interview. "If you're telling them, 'I'm not that person,' they should have some kind of system to find out who that person is, right then and there."

Kennell had never before been in jail. She was released only after her sister's parole officer pointed out the error. 

If you're telling them, 'I'm not that person,' they should have some kind of system to find out who that person is, right then and there.

Kennell said she understands that police have a difficult job, but they have to understand "everybody is not a criminal."

The current lawsuits are expected to focus on the same issue of ignored fingerprint notifications. But Roth dismissed the litigation as a money grab. 

The lawsuits "aren't really about righting a wrong," he said. "They are about exploiting the complexities of ... a system that is sound and that functions admirably under difficult circumstances."

Roth, Joyce and Dotson also said it is not productive to focus on past mistakes.

The newspaper's list reinforced "some of the things that we already know" Roth said. But he added, "There are too many details that are unknowable after the passage of time. They evaporate and inevitably lead to speculation that can misinform judgment."

Teneil Kellerman, a lawyer suing on behalf of Travis Jones, who was held in error for 76 days, said officials seem to be banking on a jury deciding "three months of my client's life aren't worth much."

She added, "I think that this is a general, systematic failure, and I think everybody knew about it for years."

Hacking, one of the lawyers planning the class action, said interest in the issue "waxes and wanes," then "crests again when a lawsuit is filed" or a newspaper article appears.

"If you don't admit there's a problem," he said, "it's just going to keep going."

HUMAN CONSEQUENCES

Verntez Jones said he gets on the ground any time he is stopped by police, because if you add the crimes he didn't commit to those he did, they see him as dangerous.

Multiple arrestee Harden presumes that if he is stopped for a traffic violation, he will be held until authorities figure out — again — that he is not his friend Carroll.

I've been doing this for 30 years. And it's impossible to straighten this out.

Karif McCreight, concerned about passing down wrongful-arrest problems that have jailed him for weeks, hesitated to give his newborn son his name. He explained, "I don't know how far this could go."

Some people lose their jobs after being arrested and jailed, even if it's a mistake, said attorney Craig Kessler. Many have to go to the police station repeatedly to erase erroneous charges from their record. 

"I've been doing this for 30 years. And it's impossible to straighten this out," he lamented.

Kessler said he sometimes half-seriously suggests that mistakenly arrested defendants might be "better off" pleading guilty in minor cases and paying fines. 

Hacking lamented that "once you are labeled, it sticks to you like tar paper. There's not a way to fix it under the current system."

He and a colleague, Jennifer Shoulberg, also warned of less obvious but broader consequences — such as wasted taxpayer money and a risk to public safety if police stop looking for the right criminal because they locked up someone else.

Click photo to read caption and enlarge.

Pruitt, of the NAACP, said he hopes officials' "lack of enthusiasm to fix this" is not a reflection of the fact that the wrongfully arrested are "predominantly black, lower income, under-served individuals."

"If this was people from Ladue or folks from out of town attending the ball game, and they were white," he said, officials "would fix it fairly quickly."

Since her own downward spiral, McNeal said, she no longer discounts complaints by people who have been accused of crimes but proclaim their innocence. 

"Up until that experience," she explained, "I had faith in the justice system."

KNOWING WHO IS WHO

In St. Louis County, officials say they insist that jailers not complete the booking process until the police ID unit delivers a "clear sheet" confirming identity. It takes no longer than an hour.

“Before they leave this room, we know exactly who they are,” said Tena Johnson, intake manager at the county jail in Clayton, which processes about 35,000 people each year.

Officials there said misdemeanor charges are sought against anyone caught using an alias. As of mid-September, about 70 had been caught at booking; last year's total was 149.

County officials agreed to show reporters their process on the understanding that they were not judging other jurisdictions whose procedures, they said, may work equally well.

Click photo to read caption and enlarge.

For about a year, county police have been using two mobile fingerprint machines that allow an officer on the street to confirm identity within 30 seconds through a state database.

"If we could snap our fingers and make the finances available, every police officer should have this — particularly in high-crime areas, because it is so common that people will lie to you," said county Officer John Krebs, who demonstrated use of one.

The units cost $1,600 apiece, according to the highway patrol, which has 27 in circulation.

Mittman, with the ACLU, said the availability of simple solutions makes him question St. Louis' practice of "blaming the victims."

"St. Louis officials should learn from their counterparts elsewhere that it is not difficult to ascertain the identity of a person in their custody and to do so quickly," he said.

PROBLEMS, SOLUTIONS

Lawsuits and public scrutiny forced reforms in Los Angeles, including a promise to use mobile fingerprint readers and possible legislation to clean up California's clogged database of arrest warrants.

Suits in Ventura County, Calif., and Denver triggered four- to five-figure monetary settlements per incident — and mechanisms to identify and address mistakes. Denver created an "arrest issues group."

Although three individual plaintiffs settled in Denver for a total of $232,000, a larger group's suit has stalled as it appeals a magistrate judge's decision that may scuttle the case.

Quizzed by reporters, St. Louis officials said they also are considering changes. Some of the ideas have been talked about for years.

What we don't want is a single point of failure.

One would reduce the number of times information is manually entered into agencies' separate computer systems. Another is use of mobile fingerprint readers, like the county's. Roth said the purchase was delayed while the state decided "on uniform technical specifications and protocols."

Ed Postawko, chief warrant officer for the city prosecutor, said he has been meeting with police and technology staff about the computers.

He also said that with 2,000 emails arriving a year to alert St. Louis officials to inconsistencies between booking information and fingerprints, officials are seeking a way to highlight those that signal a wrongful arrest. 

Mike Guzy, a top sheriff's administrator who formerly was on the St. Louis police force, said the arresting officer has the most information and ultimately should be responsible for acting on those emails.

But Joyce and Dotson said all parties should share the responsibility. "What we don't want is a single point of failure," the chief explained.

Your research seems to suggest that there's at least more that could be done, and if there is, we should do it.

Dotson said he plans to have a mobile fingerprint device available for the patrol division soon, and one at each of the three area police stations to sort out identity issues before anyone gets to the jail.

Roth noted that he has added staff to the jail unit that processes new prisoners.

The St. Louis sheriff's office, which guards courts and transports prisoners to and from jail, has no power to fix mistaken arrests. But as a result of the newspaper investigation, it recently adopted a form that aggrieved prisoners can file to seek attention. No one has used it yet.

Presiding Circuit Judge Philip Heagney said the Post-Dispatch investigation provides a valuable window on an important issue.

"Your research seems to suggest that there's at least more that could be done, and if there is, we should do it," said the judge, himself a former police officer. "Human beings make mistakes. The question is, do we have the procedures in place to see a mistake has been made and then take corrective action?"


EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story misstated the consequences to Cortez Cooper of his brother's case being filed in his name. Cortez was not held in jail in that case.

 

Graphic by Tom Borgman | Post-Dispatch

Suspect who used brother's name faced no repercussions for lying

Leonard B. Arnold was not shy about using his brother's name to escape trouble. For that, Antonio Arnold spent months in jail.

Talking by phone from prison, Leonard Arnold, now 30, said he first used the alias during a traffic stop in 2002, when he was wanted by police. It worked, he said, because he never carried identification and because Antonio “never gets in trouble.”

Leonard said he used it again in an October 2005 drug possession arrest, posting bail while a fingerprint check was pending. Antonio was charged.

An email alert to police, prosecutors and others — warning that Leonard may have used an alias — was not heeded. Antonio was arrested in November 2006. He was freed in March 2007 on the 2005 case and a 2004 case in which a probation officer notified officials about the mistake.

Antonio was arrested again on the case in February 2008. In April, a judge ordered him released from the 2006 case but not any others on which he was held.

Two of those cases also were Leonard's however: a 2002 drug possession and trespassing case and a 2003 drug case. Antonio was freed from jail on those a month later.

By the time of a 2010 arrest, Leonard said, "they was already on to me for using his name." Police noticed that Antonio is 2 inches shorter than Leonard and is the only one of them who wears glasses.

Antonio Arnold could not be reached. Leonard, serving a 10-year term, said his brother got angry but was understanding.

Leonard also said it seemed "kind of strange" that he was never punished for lying about his name to police, judges and other officials.

He explained, "Sometimes you get free-cased (charged with something you didn't do), sometimes you get over on the system."

Birthdates contributed to jailing Johnny Black in place of Jimmy Black

Jimmy Black was arrested in April 2009 for allegedly selling drugs and released pending charges.

On Oct. 8, 2009, Johnny Black was arrested on Jimmy Black's warrant. Police listed the two men as having the same birthdates.

But Johnny Black was clearly not Jimmy Black — Johnny had an injury to his right eye that caused it to appear permanently shut. The condition went back to at least his 2004 mugshot.

Beyond that, when Johnny Black’s fingerprints were taken, the results showed he was not Jimmy Black. But authorities did not act on an email that went out saying so.

Johnny Black took matters into his own hands, writing a letter to the court in which he tried his best to explain the mix-up. In the correspondence, he even admitted his own offense: riding MetroLink without paying the fare.

"I’m requesting this honorable court to please thoroughly investigate this information error and please inform me when this investigation is complete," he wrote. "… Thank you for your cooperation Judge Moriarty in looking into this matter."

The letter was not clearly dated, but it said his next court date was Nov. 9, 2009.

Court records show authorities were already looking into the matter, but the results would not come immediately.

That Oct. 9, Judge Paula Bryant ordered an analysis of his fingerprints. The result confirmed that he was not the person wanted for the crime, although it mistakenly listed his name as Jimmy Black. On Nov. 13, he was ordered released; he finally was released on Nov. 17. 

On Feb. 8, 2010, another round of confusion ensued, when Johnny Black was again arrested on Jimmy Black's case after being caught urinating in public. A fingerprint email went out the day after the arrest, again alerting authorities of the error. Again, nobody acted.

On March 4, another judge ordered a fingerprint comparison. Those results showed Johnny Black was not the wanted man, and he was ordered released.

In total, Johnny Black spent 93 days in jail on Jimmy Black’s case. An arrest warrant is still out for Jimmy Black.

Computer mistake triggers anguishing arrest and aftermath

When Shannon Renee McNeal was pulled over by Ferguson police on Aug. 6, 2009, it set off an odyssey of frustration that began with more than 24 hours behind bars.

The 37-year-old Metro bus driver had been arrested on a felony drug warrant intended for another woman, Shannon Raquel McNeal, 23. The younger McNeal had been killed in a drive-by shooting on the Poplar Street Bridge seven months earlier.

The mistake was made by a deputy court clerk who clicked on the wrong "Shannon McNeal" on a computer list while creating a case file. When Shannon Raquel McNeal missed a hearing after her death, a judge issued an arrest warrant that had all of the wrong McNeal's information on it.

McNeal, who returned to her maiden name of Jolliff last year, recalls being asked to step out of the car, then being handcuffed and told of the warrant, which carried a $20,000 bail.

"That can't be me. That can't be me," she recalls saying.

The children were screaming and crying, McNeal said, and she begged, "Please don't arrest me in front of my kids."

At the station, she again denied being the other McNeal. Her fingerprints also didn't match. But Ferguson police told her that she would have to sort it out in St. Louis.

Late that day, McNeal was taken to the St. Louis Justice Center. Again, her fingerprints did not match, she said.

She again protested, but said she was told to explain it to a jail caseworker.

That staffer pulled up mug shots that showed the other McNeal, she said. "Mmmm. Mmmm. This is not you," the caseworker concluded, before adding that McNeal would "have to get an attorney or call down to the prosecutors."

McNeal was relatively calm to that point, saying she was "trying to get it ... solved."

"So the anxiety hadn't really set in 'til they got the orange suits, and they told me I had to go to the workhouse."

She was suddenly among inmates who "killed people, robbed people," she said. One woman was convulsing.

"All I could see was me doing time for something I didn't do," she said. But she had bigger worries: "I gonna die in here," she remembers thinking. "All I could really do was cry."

A lawyer arranged her release after relatives scraped together $4,000 for legal fees.

But Metro fired her because of the arrest. She eventually got her job back but estimates the time off cost her $11,000.

She brushed off her lawyer's advice that she could sue. "I just wanted them to apologize to me," she said.

Desire to fix past mistake leads to new one

The question Oliver Clifford Johnson asked two St. Louis police officers while walking to a bus stop on Aug. 25, 2011, seemed innocent enough. But all it brought him was trouble.

Six years earlier, he had been wrongfully arrested and held for several days in a drug possession case against Oliver Matthew Johnson, who had the same date of birth.

Oliver Clifford Johnson asked the two officers what could be done.

It resulted in them running his name, learning that the other Oliver was now wanted on a probation violation, and throwing him in jail until an attorney helped sort it out. For some of that time, Oliver Matthew Johnson was also being jailed in St. Louis.

The immediate confusion was resolved after Oliver Clifford Johnson spent 14 days in a St. Louis jail. But then he spent four more days in jail because of warrants for municipal violations.

Only one was really his, said the attorney, Kevin Whiteley. The rest belonged to Oliver Matthew Johnson. But Oliver Clifford Johnson pleaded guilty to all the charges just so he could go home.

Again, it wasn't that easy.

He spent two more days in jail because of drug and driving charges in St. Louis County, where he had also been confused for the other Oliver Johnson.

Whiteley said the 2011 mistakes were "completely avoidable. And I think the only reason it happened is because of the complete incompetence, apathy or disregard for Oliver's constitutional rights by the law enforcement officials involved."

Oliver Matthew Johnson, reached by phone, said he was not aware of the other man's experience, although he allowed that every now and then he would suffer a wrongful arrest "mix-up" of his own.

Arrests kept coming for Milton Harden

Milton Harden was wrongfully arrested five times in Courtney Carroll's domestic violence case, spending a total of 100 days in jail.

Twice, he was wanted for probation violations of his own, so it's unclear whether he would have spent at least some of the time in jail regardless.

Harden, 45, said Carroll is an old friend who stole his ID when they were teens, and now it's dogging him wherever he goes.

Carroll, 47, denied to a reporter that he had any role in the mix-up. Carroll said he and Harden swapped names as teens when it was convenient but that he quit years ago.

The arrests stretched from July 2009 to November 2011. At one point, Harden made it clear he was not Carroll, signing his own name to court documents. He also paid $500 in bail to get out of jail. A judge later refunded the money, after ordering a fingerprint comparison that determined Harden was not Carroll.

Harden should have been fingerprinted each time he was arrested, and the results would have made it clear he was not Carroll.

“I was trying to tell them Courtney's got a scar on his back, I don't have a scar on my back. I gave them his address (but) they shipped me off to the workhouse,” he said. “He's my friend, but I done a lot of jail time for him."

Carroll didn't know Harden had been arrested so many times on his case but said it comes as no surprise. “It's easy to get into the system," he said, "hard to get out.”

Man with 10 fingers held in place of suspect with eight

William Lamont Willis has only eight fingers, due to a 2006 fireworks accident.

William Earl Willis has all 10.

William Earl Willis was nonetheless charged in two of William Lamont Willis’ felony cases because authorities swapped their dates of birth — even though in both, crime scene fingerprints identified the correct defendant.

Officials fixed the name in one case but kept arresting the wrong man in the other. In all, he spent 43 days in jail on four wrongful arrests despite repeated fingerprint comparisons.

“To me, it’s like they didn’t even care they had somebody locked up in jail who shouldn’t be,” said William Earl Willis’ mother, Michelle Latimore. “They didn’t care how many fingers he had.”

Circuit Judge Joan Moriarty revealed her exasperation in an order releasing William Earl Willis after one arrest, noting after fingerprints he was “determined NOT to be the same person charged in this case. MOST NOTICEABLY the William Willis currently held has TEN fingers. The William Willis charged in the above case has LESS THAN TEN fingers,” she wrote.

William Earl Willis began carrying the order on him to prevent future mishaps.

William Lamont Willis ultimately pleaded guilty in both cases, a vehicle theft and a burglary.

A lawyer for William Earl Willis said that despite the plea, prosecutors tried to use his client’s arrest in the burglary to try to enhance the penalty during plea negotiations in an unrelated case of his own.

Susan Ryan, a spokeswoman for Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, told reporters that William Lamont Willis was the actual wrongful arrest victim, but she would not provide specifics. If she is right, it would add his year behind bars to the tabulation of more than 2,000 days people wrongly served in jail.

Judge says case confusion 'the worst I've ever seen'

The Markise Johnson case triggered three mistaken arrests of at least two of Johnson's friends, and a months-long debate about whether Johnson was dead or alive.

St. Louis Circuit Judge Thomas C. Grady, who tried repeatedly to sort things out, called it "the worst I've ever seen."

Johnson apparently gave police the name Bobby Cortez Madison when he was arrested July 4, 2009, after police caught him with illegal prescription drugs. 

That day, a police email warned authorities that the suspect's fingerprints really matched a man named Markise Johnson. He was indicted Oct. 1 as Madison, but prosecutors later changed the defendant's name to Johnson when he pleaded guilty.

Markise Johnson was fatally shot on Dec. 18, 2010, in Caseyville.

A warrant went out in January 2011 for the arrest of Bobby Madison for a probation violation in the dead Johnson's case. But police arrested Anthony G. Johnson instead, on Feb. 5. He was released March 8.

A new warrant went out for Madison. The real Bobby Madison was arrested March 23 and released two days later.

Judge Grady then sent a letter to a probation officer asking about a rumor that the defendant was dead. The May 13 reply said that Markise Johnson was dead. But a July 22 entry said Grady had been told that the "defendant" was alive.

A "Bobby Madison" was arrested Sept. 13 and released six days later, when a note in the file said the name should be corrected to Marquise Johnson.

The case was finally closed on Jan. 31, 2012, 13 months after Johnson's death. 

Recovering
Damages

Wrongfully arrested face
hurdles in seeking release

By Robert Patrick & Jennifer S. Mann | Post-Dispatch

October 26, 2013
A

uthorities cannot be penalized for merely arresting the wrong person and failing to investigate the protests. Legal decisions over three decades say so. ¶ A person suing over wrongful arrest must show that authorities were not just negligent but showed "deliberate indifference," either by ignoring clear signs of a mistake or failing to adopt reasonable safeguards.

In St. Louis, one woman was able to do so. 

When Sharon Kennell was wrongfully arrested on her sister's St. Louis warrant, while driving her mother to the credit union in Country Club Hills, a police officer could not verify her identity on the spot. So she was taken to St. Louis police headquarters, where she was fingerprinted.

A fingerprint report confirming that Kennell was telling the truth was sent to the officer who processed her. But that happened after the officer left for the day, and she claimed not to have seen it in the six days that followed, which Kennell spent locked in a jail cell. That missed notification was the key to the $10,000 verdict against the officer and to a federal appeals court ruling upholding it. 

The U.S. Supreme Court set out standards in a 1979 case, Baker v. McCollan.

"The Constitution does not guarantee that only the guilty will be arrested," Justice William Rehnquist wrote for the majority. "If it did, (the law) would provide a cause of action for every defendant acquitted — indeed, for every suspect released."

The case involved Linnie Carl McCollan, who in 1972 was stopped in Dallas for running a red light, then arrested and held on Potter County warrants in his name but intended for his brother. Leonard McCollan, the brother, had stolen Linnie's driver's license, doctored it and used his name as an alias.

Linnie was in custody for eight days, three of them in Potter County over a long holiday weekend. He was released when deputies saw a photograph of Leonard and realized their error.

Linnie sued the Potter County sheriff over those three days, complaining that his protests went unheeded.

But the justices determined that a mistaken arrest on a warrant — that is valid on its face — is not a violation if a probable-cause hearing is held within three days.

"Mere detention pursuant to a valid warrant but in the face of repeated protests of innocence will after the lapse of a certain amount of time deprive the accused of 'liberty ... without due process of law,'" Rehnquist wrote. "But we are quite certain that a detention of three days over a New Year's weekend does not and could not amount to such a deprivation." 

Rehnquist noted that due process does not require authorities to investigate every claim of innocence, nor to do so error-free. The court reserved judgment as to whether a longer jail stay might be a violation.

Justice John Paul Stevens, joined by two other justices, was cutting in his dissent.

He wrote that officials could have cut McCollan's jail stay in half by doing any number of things, such as noting on the brother's file that he was suspected of using an alias, or making the brother's fingerprints and photograph more immediately available.

“The societal interests in apprehending the guilty as well as the interests in avoiding the incarceration of the innocent equally demand that the identification of the arrested persons conform to standards designed to minimize the risk of error,” Stevens wrote. "...I have no hesitation in concluding that an eight-day imprisonment resulting from a total absence of any regular identification procedures in Potter County was a deprivation of liberty without due process of law that the Constitution commands.”

Roger Goldman, a professor specializing in constitutional and criminal law at St. Louis University, said that while police have been protected from civil rights claims in cases in which they reasonably believed a warrant was valid, "If you know the wrong person's there, holding them an hour is a violation."

He added municipalities can be held liable if they display a pattern of ignoring problems.

When told of the number of wrongful arrest cases uncovered in St. Louis despite alias notifications that signaled problems, Goldman said an argument could be made that it is such a pattern. 

Jennifer S. Mann is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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