More than 500 people were wrongly imprisoned in Denver’s jails over seven years, with some spending weeks incarcerated or pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit before authorities realized they nabbed the wrong person, says a federal court filing quoted by the Denver Post. Civil-rights lawyers suing the city and county of Denver assert the documented mistaken-identity arrests “are the tip of the iceberg” and are an undercount of the problem’s true magnitude.
In one case a black man spent nine days in jail after he was arrested on a warrant for a white man. In another, authorities arrested an 18- year-old when they were searching for a man 30 years older. City officials say the documented mistakes make up a small fraction of the more than 33,000 inmates detained last year. They say they strive to avoid detaining the wrong suspects but concede that mistakes do happen. “The best we can do is set up processes so these get addressed immediately, and that’s what we’ve done,” said Denver police Lt. Matt Murray. The wrongful arrests occurred for a variety of reasons. Often those wrongly held had the same names as criminals, but authorities failed to check their dates of birth. Some were wrongly arrested because their identities had been stolen. In other cases, the last name matched but not the first or middle.