No Immunity for Officer|in LA Warrants Fight

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – A man can proceed with claims against a retired official accused of using the plaintiff’s identifying information on a warrant for another man, a federal judge ruled.
     In 2012, Reggie Smith sued the county after he was twice arrested and detained on an outstanding warrant for a man convicted of sexual battery.
     The State Department had refused to process Smith’s passport application because of the ID error, Smith notes in his complaint.
     Smith and plaintiffs in other pending lawsuits want an order that requires authorities to issue warrants using the unique identifiers available from federal and state law-enforcement databases.
     Smith initially blamed his case of mistaken identity on a failure to use those identifiers.
     But an amended complaint filed in April states that a bench warrant for the individual charged with sexual battery, Robert Lee Cooks, included Smith’s name, birth date, and physical description.
     “Briefly, in 1991, Robert Lee Cooks was convicted of sexual battery under the name ‘Reggie Lamar Smith;’ he then failed to appear for sentencing,” Smith’s complaint states.
     According to Smith, LA Deputy Sheriff Barbara Fryer had generated his identifiers and provided them to the court after leading an investigation against Cooks.
     Fryer filed a motion to dismiss the case. But U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson on Tuesday issued an order denying her immunity.
     The former investigator allegedly searched a criminal database using the name Reggie Smith because Cooks had used the name as an alias. Cooks’ victim had also identified her attacker as a “Reggie Smith,” according to court records.
     But Smith said that Fryer should have realized that the victim’s testimony was not credible after the victim had allegedly lied to investigators about Cooks’ identify.
     Pregerson agreed that based on the record, Fryer should have entertained “serious doubts as to the accuracy of the identifiers she obtained.”
     Searching the database using a common first and last name “with no additional corroboration,” then generating the warrant without first verifying Cooks’ date of birth, could be considered reckless, the judge wrote.
     “The court finds that a reasonable official would understand that recklessly or knowingly providing false information to a court is unlawful and that a warrant which names or otherwise identifies someone other than its true subject is constitutionally deficient,” Pregerson wrote in his 14-page order.
     The county is also seeking to dismiss a case that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sent back to the Federal Court last year.
     In 2007, 16 years after the court issued the warrant, Smith was working as a Nissan representative when he was stopped by police in Antioch, Tenn., for a traffic violation and arrested on the warrant.
     He spent five weeks in custody after he was transferred to an LA County jail.
     Even though a judge exonerated him, Smith was stopped by the LAPD for another minor traffic infraction in 2011 and arrested on the same outstanding warrant.
     Smith claims the county had failed to include Cooks’ identifiers on the warrant or even include Smith’s exoneration information.
     Smith’s attorney Donald Cook told Courthouse News earlier this month that officials should have realized on four different occasions that the warrant wrongly identified Smith but did nothing about it.
     As early as 2007, the county realized that Cooks was in federal prison in Georgia, Smith says. But when officials updated the warrant in November 2010, they still used Smith’s identifiers, his filing states.

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