Court: Man Wrongfully Arrested, Jailed For 33 Days Can't Sue Law Enforcement

| by Jonathan Wolfe

A California man wrongfully detained and imprisoned two times because of mistakes by law enforcement officials had his lawsuit shot down yesterday.

A three-judge panel denied that Santiago Rivera had his constitutional rights violated when police incorrectly arrested him two times instead of the correct man with the same name.

Rivera’s problems with law enforcement date back to 1985, when an arrest warrant was put out for a man bearing the same name. On June 18, 1989, Santiago was arrested in Montclair, Calif., based on the warrant. Shortly after detaining him, authorities realized they had the wrong Santiago Rivera and released him. The court issued him a judicial clearance form to prevent the same mistake from happening again.

After Rivera’s release, police reissued the warrant but failed to indicate that the freshly released Rivera was not its subject. Of course, you know what happens next.

On March 7, 2009, Rivera was once again arrested in accordance with the warrant. He told police he had a judicial clearance form exonerating him but failed to produce the form when asked for it. He was arrested again.

Rivera was incarcerated for 33 days while authorities searched through old records to corroborate Rivera’s claim that he was not the man listed in the warrant.

After Rivera’s release, police reissued a new warrant including the correct Santiago Rivera’s middle name, which differs from the wrongly detained Rivera’s. They also included a picture of the innocent Rivera to ensure the mistake wouldn't happen again.

After spending a month in jail without reason, Rivera sued the Los Angeles and San Bernardino County sheriff’s offices on the grounds that his constitutional rights were violated in his detainment. The judicial panel rejected his claims.

“The deputies were not unreasonable in believing that Rivera was the subject of the warrant at the time of arrest,” Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain wrote in the ruling. "The name and date of birth on the warrant matched Rivera’s exactly. The height and weight descriptors associated with the warrant, although not matching Rivera exactly, were within one inch and 10 pounds of Rivera’s true size.”

In the ruling, which you can read in full here, the judges write that because officials had reason to believe Rivera was the subject of the warrant, and because Rivera failed to use all available resources to prove his innocence, the lawsuit is not valid. 

Sources: LA Times, U.S. Court of Appeals