Court Weighs ID Errors on LA Warrants

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – A man who sued over ID errors in the warrant system asked a court Monday to uphold his civil rights claim against Los Angeles County.
     Attorney Donald Cook is leading a charge to address flaws in the warrant system, representing clients in multiple lawsuits in state and federal court. They are requesting an order for county authorities to use the unique identifiers that agencies from the California Department of Justice to the FBI make available to police and jailers.
     Cook maintains that identification errors and the county officials’ reluctance to fix them have led to thousands of wrongful arrests and incarcerations.
     But even though he believes it is simple to include identifiers or exoneration information on warrants, his efforts so far have been frustrated.
     In 2012, Cook’s client Reggie Smith sued the county after he was arrested multiple times on an outstanding warrant for a man facing sexual battery charges.
     Cook told Courthouse News that over the years officials realized on four different occasions that the warrant wrongly identified his client as the subject but did nothing about it.
     The attorney also represented Santiago Rivera in another case of mistaken identity. Rivera claimed he had been arrested twice because of an ID error on a warrant, in 1989 and 2009.
     The second time, Rivera said, he spent a month in jail before officials realized their mistake. The 9th Circuit rejected Rivera’s case last year.
     Cook was in a downtown courtroom Monday to argue in a related case for his client Jose Ventura, who claimed he was arrested after a Chino police officer stopped him in late 2007 for a minor traffic infraction.
     Ventura shared the same name with the subject of a warrant. But he is 5 feet 6 inches tall and at that time weighed 320 pounds. Meanwhile, the subject was identified on the warrant as 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighing 200 lbs.
     While the 9th Circuit affirmed a federal court ruling in favor of the county, it reversed and remanded Ventura’s Fourteenth Amendment claim.
     County representative Scott Caron asked U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson to reject the claim for the same reason the appeals court had dismissed Ventura’s claim against San Bernardino County.
     The failure to review Ventura’s criminal history did not violate his constitutional rights, the attorney said at the afternoon hearing.
     In papers filed at the court, Caron said that Ventura was “attempting to relitigate an issue that has already been decided by the 9th Circuit.”
     “It stands to reason that, if San Bernardino County did not violate plaintiff’s Fourteenth Amendment rights by not reviewing his criminal history (notwithstanding the alleged height and weight difference) neither did the Los Angeles County defendants,” Caron wrote in an April 28 filing.
     But Cook contended that unlike San Bernardino, Los Angeles County authorities had at their fingertips the information they needed to realize the mistake. They just had to take a few seconds to check Ventura’s criminal history, he said.
     “The issue is not the same,” Cook told the court.
     He noted that over a four-year period from 2006 to 2010, 1,500 people had been exonerated after the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department detained them. There were only three warrant investigations, the attorney told Judge Wilson.
     “A reasonable inference one can draw here is not that only three prisoners complained; rather, it is that many if not most complained but their complaints were simply ignored,” Cook wrote in an April 21 filing to the court, adding that he had declarations from 12 people to support that contention.
     Caron called Cook’s contentions “speculative.”
     He noted that Cook did not make clear how many of the 1,500 had been remanded into the department’s custody from a court.
     It was possible authorities lawfully detained individuals because they were facing multiple charges in several criminal cases, he added.
     “While one charge may relate to a warrant which does not belong to the detainee, one or more other charges will be in cases for which the detainee is the correct defendant, and for which the detainee should be in custody,” Caron wrote in his filing.
     Wilson did not rule from the bench, noting that he would “delve in the record” before making a final decision.
     Caron is with Glendale firm Lawrence Beach Allen & Choi.

%d bloggers like this: