On April 11, 2019, Hamilton County Sheriff’s Deputies arrested Ashley Foster in the Target parking lot on a bench warrant issued from Brown County. Ms. Foster insisted it was a case of mistaken identity. With her at the time were her young sons, the youngest of which was 8 weeks old. The Sheriff’s Deputies would not let her feed the baby or change his diaper. Instead, they arrested her and allowed her to listen to the baby scream. The children were placed into the custody of Child Protective Services, while Ashley spent the next 7 days in jail, losing her job in the process. When she was finally transported to Brown County, the Aberdeen police officer that came to interview her realized he had the wrong person. Meanwhile, the Ashley Foster that was the culprit of the crime had fled.
One must wonder what possible threat this young mother with two small children could pose to armed Sheriff’s Deputies to warrant disallowing her to feed, change and comfort her children. And why is it that this Aberdeen police officer could not travel to the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department, a mere 42 minutes away, that same afternoon to discover that Ms. Foster was not the criminal?
This, of course, is not the first case of mistaken identity. There have been many, many others. In July 2018, a jury awarded Marvin Seales of Harper Woods, Michigan $3.5 million when he was arrested in a case of mistaken identity. Although he insisted that he was not the right person, the police, booking agents, and sheriff’s intake agents would not listen. It was not until two weeks later, at his preliminary hearing that the victim of the crime stated that Marvin was not the guy that committed the crime. The District Judge signed the dismissal that day. In his case, Mr. Seales did not lose his family or his job. But he wondered what would have happened if he had. About his civil case against the Detroit Police, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals stated:
“There is no evidence that the officers made any attempt to verify Seales’ identity,” the 6th Circuit wrote. “Nothing suggests that the officers checked Seales’ fingerprints, photographs or biographical information against the information that they had on Siner. It appears that they failed to confirm Seales’ identity, even though simple identification procedures would have revealed the mistake.”
In this day and age when identity theft is so prevalent, it seems that extra precautions are warranted to ensure that police arrest the right person. For example, if police are not able to verify the arrestee’s identity within a reasonable time, say four (4) hours, the arrestee should be released. And this should apply no matter where the arrest occurs.