St. Louis Cops Screwed Up Again, Man Says
ST. LOUIS (CN) - For the second time this week, St. Louis has been sued on charges of arresting and jailing the wrong person - this time for 108 days.
Jeffery Anthony Smith sued the City of St. Louis, its Division of Corrections, its Police Board, Police Chief Sam Dotson, several police officers and St. Louis Circuit Clerk Jane Schweitzer, on Wednesday in Federal Court
Smith claims he was notified by St. Louis Metropolitan Police on Aug. 10, 2009 that he was wanted for a Class C felony, issued for man named Eugene Hamilton.
"Despite plaintiff's assurances that his identification as Jeffery Anthony Smith was true, defendant officers claimed that plaintiff was in fact an individual named Eugene Hamilton, who, upon information and belief, was the subject of an outstanding warrant issued by the Twenty-Second Judicial Circuit Court of Missouri," the complaint states.
"Plaintiff was improperly served the outstanding warrant for Eugene Hamilton issued by the Twenty-Second Judicial Circuit of Missouri, and was arrested by defendant Andre Watson."
Smith says he was taken to the St. Louis City Justice Center, where he was processed as Hamilton. He says the defendants should have known he was not Hamilton, as both men's fingerprints were already in the defendant's system.
"From August 16, 2009 through December 2, 2009, for one hundred eight (108)
days, plaintiff was wrongfully and involuntarily held in the custody of the Metropolitan Police Department, the Sheriff's Department, and/or the Division of Corrections," the complaint states.
"During said one hundred eight (108) days, plaintiff continued to protest that he was misidentified, that he did not know Eugene Hamilton, and that he was not involved in any criminal activity with Mr. Hamilton. None of the defendants, nor their agents or employees, took any steps to investigate plaintiff's truthful claims of innocence or misidentification, despite the fact that the defendants had plaintiff's fingerprints and the fingerprints of Eugene Hamilton.
"On September 16, 2009, Judge Bryant ordered that plaintiff be fingerprinted to determine plaintiff's true identity.
"Defendants failed to follow the court order and plaintiff remained in custody without his fingerprints being compared to those of the proper defendant, Eugene Hamilton.
"On October 29, 2009 Assistant Circuit Attorney Kristi Hodel sent a letter to plaintiff's public defender indicating that plaintiff was not the proper defendant, Eugene Hamilton.
"Ms. Hodel stated that, 'the booking photo for the person arrested in this matter does not look like the Eugene Hamilton that is pictured in the discovery material ... it appears your client is telling the truth.'
"Despite this, plaintiff remained in the custody of defendants for an additional thirty-three (33) days until December 2, 2009 for a crime he did not commit.
"On December 2, 2009 Circuit Court Judge Joan Moriarty ordered plaintiff's release from defendant's custody, as plaintiff was not the proper defendant, Eugene Hamilton.
"On this occasion, the defendants finally released plaintiff from their custody."
Smith seeks punitive damages for false arrest and imprisonment and violations of his Fourth Amendment rights. He also wants the defendants ordered to develop and implement adequate training programs for its officers and employees about citizen's rights under the Fourth Amendment.
Smith is represented by James O. Hacking III.
On Monday, Hacking filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of Shannon Renee McNeal. She claims police arrested her under a warrant for Shannon Raquel McNeal, who had been murdered three months before. Shannon Renee McNeal was held for several days and claims the defendants sprayed her with pesticides during her detainment.
Earlier this year, St. Louis paid $62,500 to settle a federal lawsuit filed by Travis S. Jones, who was mistakenly held for more than two months. Jones claimed that he was arrested and jailed even though the man authorities were actually looking for was already incarcerated.
Cedric Wright, who also is represented by Hacking, has another lawsuit against the defendants pending in Federal Court. Wright claims he spent more than eight weeks in jail on charges against another man.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch conducted an investigation in 2013 that found about 100 people had been mistakenly arrested in recent years and collectively spent at least 2,000 days in jail. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce and other city officials dispute the newspaper's findings.