Instructive, sobering tale: when police findings are botched

Little did a man know that the real fireworks central to a 4th of July evening he spent with friends and a newly introduced woman on a city rooftop would commence months later with a knock on his door at home.

It was the cops. He left the house with them — in handcuffs and under arrest for a sexual assault on that woman.

In fact, he was charged on a criminal count of felony rape and was under the reasonable assumption, based on what police officials told him, that he could be spending the rest of his life incarcerated.

For a crime he never committed.

In fact, he had not engaged in any contact with the woman at all in July. An account from a witness stated that she was interested in a white male. The arrested man is black. Allegedly, a surveillance tape showed footage of the woman leaving the rooftop with a white male.

Notwithstanding that, the accused black male spent a harrowing 61 days behind bars, frantic with worry, until he was quite suddenly released, with the criminal case against him being totally dropped.

“They said just pack up all my stuff and go,” he later said.

Of course, that is exactly what he did, but not without justifiable anger that recent manifested itself in a federal civil complaint filed against police lab technicians. Those individuals had linked rape kit vaginal samples of semen to cigarettes he was smoking that July evening.

Their conclusions were flatly wrong, with reports indicating that a subsequent DNA sample taken to confirm earlier results revealed that the suspect’s genetic material “had been identified improperly by the laboratory technicians.”

The complaint, filed earlier this month, cites the lab workers for negligent conduct. Among other things, it seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

Although the tale is disturbing, of course, it hardly stands alone as a singular occurrence. Evidentiary errors — some DNA-based, some grounded in myriad other mistakes made by police officers and other criminal investigators — occur routinely across Alameda County, the entire Bay Area and the rest of the country (the above story has a Denver, Colorado, nexus).

There is certainly an instructive element to this post’s subject matter, namely this: the underscoring of the need for any person arrested on a criminal charge to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney without delay.

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