Tuesday, February 19, 2002
Ninth Circuit Upholds Judgment Against Long Beach for Holding Man Too Long in Mistaken-Identity Detention
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Friday upheld a judgment against the city of Long Beach for taking too long to verify an arrested man’s claim that his twin brother, not him, was the person named in a warrant.
A U.S. District Court jury exonerated Long Beach officers accused by John B. Fairley of excessive force and arrest without probable cause in 1999. But it awarded Fairley $11,250 on his claim that the city’s police department violated his due process rights through a practice, custom or policy of failing to promptly investigate allegations of mistaken identity by the people it arrests.
U.S. District Judge David O. Carter of the Central District of California denied the city’s motion for new trial and awarded Fairley’s attorneys, Robert Mann and Donald W. Cook, more than $92,000 in fees.
Fairley was arrested in 1997 following an alleged violation of a temporary restraining order obtained by a neighbor.
A warrant check showed that two infraction warrants had been issued in 1995 for Joe B. Fairley. John Fairley testified at trial that Joe B. Fairley is his identical twin brother, and that he explained that to the police and pointed out that their driver’s license numbers were different and their weights more than 60 pounds apart.
The plaintiffs established that the arresting officers knew John Fairley had a twin brother and told the booking sergeant, but that the sergeant booked John Fairley under the warrants based on the similarity in the physical descriptions.
John Fairley also presented evidence that the police could have verified the fact that he was not Joe Fairley from various sources, including DMV records and fingerprints, but failed to do so until he had been in custody 12 days. The city conceded that it had Joe Fairley’s fingerprints but didn’t compare them to John Fairley’s.
The TRO-violation charge was dropped after the third day.
In a per curiam opinion for the Ninth Circuit, Judge Michael Daly Hawkins and Senior Judges James R. Browning and Melvin Brunetti rejected the city’s contention that the exoneration of the individual officers, including the booking sergeant, entitled the city to judgment as a matter of law.
The jury’s determination that individual officers did not use excessive force necessarily exonerates the city of the allegation that it countenanced the use of excessive force as a matter of policy, the judges agreed. But that determination did not necessarily preclude the claim that Fairley was over-detained pursuant to an unconstitutional practice of the department, the panel decided.
There was, the judges went on to say, substantial evidence that Fairley was held longer than necessary because of city procedures that violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process.
The panel criticized Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luman. “His decision not to instigate any procedures to alleviate the problem of detaining individuals on the wrong warrant could constitute a policy in light of his testimony he knew it was ‘not uncommon’ that individuals were arrested on the wrong warrant, and that the problem was particularly acute where twins were involved,” the judges said.
The case is Fairley v. Luman, 99-56483.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company