Mistaken Identity Cases at Heart of Denver Lawsuit Over Wrongful Arrests
By DAN FROSCH
Published: February 16, 2012
DENVER — Five years ago, a black man named Bradley Braxton was arrested by the Denver Sheriff’s Department on an outstanding warrant for sexual assault.
There was only one problem. The man the police were searching for was white, and his name was David Eddy.
Despite Mr. Braxton’s repeated protestations that he was not Mr. Eddy, and clearly not white, he was held without bond for nine days before the authorities realized their mistake and released him, according to court filings.
Cases of mistaken identity like Mr. Braxton’s are part of a continuing federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado against the city and county of Denver over what the group claims is a pattern of law enforcement officers’ taking the wrong person into custody.
According to records obtained by the group and detailed in a December legal brief, there were more than 500 cases from 2002 and into 2009 in which Denver authorities, armed with warrants, arrested or jailed the wrong person.
This month the A.C.L.U. received a second trove of records that show about 100 additional such cases since August 2009, the group said.
As described in the suit, similar names, stolen identities and inaccurate records were sometimes the source of errors made by the police and jailers. In other cases, the arrests and detentions seemed inexplicable.
“Denver law enforcement has knowingly tolerated an unjustifiable risk and frequency of these mistaken identity arrests, causing hundreds of innocent persons to be jailed for hours, days, even weeks on warrants for someone else,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director of the A.C.L.U.’s Colorado affiliate.
In one case, the Denver police mistakenly arrested a man on three different occasions who had a name similar to the actual suspect’s. Even after a warning was inserted into a criminal database, the wrong man was arrested a fourth time and jailed for eight days in 2007, according to the suit.
“The scariest part of it was that they would not even listen to all of the facts that I had,” said Christina FourHorn, who was mistakenly arrested and jailed for five days in 2007. “It made me lose my trust in the justice system.”
In Ms. FourHorn’s case, the police were searching for an American Indian woman named Christin Fourhorn who was wanted in Denver in an aggravated robbery case. Christina FourHorn is white, seven years older and weighed 90 pounds more than the suspect, according to court filings. Like Mr. Braxton, she eventually sued the city and reached a settlement.