Colo. ACLU Sues Over 5 Mistaken Identity Arrests
Monday, August 11, 2008
DENVER -- Five people sued the city and county Monday because police confused their identities with others, including one man who spent eight days in jail even though he was in another state at the time of the crime and didn't look like the suspect.
The federal lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, alleges that officers ignored facts showing they had the wrong people and that those detained weren't promptly brought before a judge.
The lawsuit names the city and county of Denver, several police officers and a sheriff's deputy.
A message left for city attorney David Fine on Monday was not immediately returned.
All the people named in the lawsuit were arrested or detained between March 2007 and January. ACLU attorneys say that Denver policymakers have "knowingly tolerated and turned a blind eye to an unjustifiable risk and frequency of such `mistaken identity' arrests."
One plaintiff spent 26 days in jail before being released. Another plaintiff, Metropolitan State College of Denver student Muse Jama, 27, was arrested while studying for a college exam.
Jama was picked up in September on an aggravated auto theft charge filed against a man named Ahmed Alia, according to the lawsuit. The charge against Alia was filed in March 2007 while Jama was on spring break in San Diego, the lawsuit said.
Jama told police officers they had the wrong man, according to the lawsuit. One officer expressed doubt that police had the right suspect and Jama did not look like the mug shot of Alia, who had a distinct facial scar and a warrant for his arrest after failing to appear in court, the lawsuit said.
"They called Alia Ahmed and I'm just sitting there," Jama said in an interview with The Associated Press, describing his experience in jail.
A guard asked him if he was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, and he answered yes. That's when he said the guard told him he would have to take Alia's name.
"I never knew he would have booked me in under any other name. I didn't notice it until they started calling me Alia Ahmed," Jama said. "I kept telling myself that after they took my fingerprints they would find out right away. But they didn't."
Jama spent eight days in Denver's jail before bonding out, having to answer to the name of Ahmed Alia to receive food and during roll call each night. Family members were unable to visit him the first time they tried because guards said they had no record of Jama at the jail.
Prosecutors asked the judge to dismiss charges against Jama after seeing his mug shot in court.
Jama, who is on track to earn his bachelor's degree in 2010, said he's hoping to have his name cleared and his fingerprints removed from court records so he can get a job after graduation.
"I thought they had the perfect system but sometimes things go wrong," said Jama, who has been in the United States 15 years.
Another case involved Jose Ernesto Ibarra, of Denver, who was arrested for outstanding traffic violations, then ordered to remain in jail in July 2007 after a law enforcement official confused him with a man with a different middle name. The lawsuit states that a check of photographs or fingerprints could have confirmed the mistaken identity. He was released after 26 days.