Prisons

Travis Jones Spent Three Months in a St. Louis Jail Due to Mistaken Identity; the Real Culprit Was Behind Bars the Whole Time

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St. Louis Police made several mistakes when they served an arrest warrant for Mark Crumble on Nov. 7, 2009, for suspicion of probation violation. The first mistake was ignoring Travis Jones when he said that he was not Mark Crumble. The second mistake was not checking with the St. Louis City Division of Corrections, where Crumble had been in custody since October.

Jones told the arresting officers repeatedly that they had the wrong guy. He said the same thing to the officers who booked and finger-printed him at the St. Louis City Police Department. And finally, he told the guards at the St. Louis City Workhouse, a medium security prison, where Travis Jones would serve three months—concurrent with Mark Crumble. 

Jones' pleas—which he made nearly every day—fell on deaf ears until January 6, 2010, when the St. Louis City Circuit Court ordered law enforcement to verify Jones' identity. Two weeks later, his fingerprints were run through the system, and his claim of mistaken identity confirmed. 

Last week, Jones filed suit in federal court against the St. Louis Sheriff's Department, the St. Louis Department of Corrections, and the St. Louis Police Department, alleging that the agencies were negligent and deprived the men of their constitutional rights. Reason obtained a copy of the suit, titled Jones v. Slay Jr. et al [PDF] from Jones' attorney, Jason A. Charpentier of Growe Eisen Karlen. The suit names St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay who is a member of the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners, as well as the remaining members of the board; St. Louis Police Chief Daniel Isom, St. Louis Sheriff James W. Murphy, Commissioner of Corrections Dale Glass, and several others. It seeks damages for Jones, and "injunctive relief to challenge those customs and policies which result in the wrongful detention of misidentified parties." 

Jones' wrongful incarceration could have been avoided long before he was ever arrested, according to the lawsuit filed on July 6. For starters, the St. Louis Sheriffs Office informed the Circuit Court of St. Louis City in October 2009 that Crumble was in custody, rendering the warrants for his arrest moot. The court failed to cancel or recall the warrants, and the Sheriffs Department refused to serve them to Crumble, who was sitting in jail. (While serving an arrest warrant to a jailed man seems counterintuitive, it would have, at the very least, cleared the warrant.) 

Because the warrant issue was not resolved either by the court, or the by Sheriff's office, another probation warrant was issued for Crumble on Oct. 30. Again, the Sheriff's Department, which only days before had informed the court that Crumble was already behind bars, failed to serve the warrant or make sure that it was cancelled or recalled. 

The rest of the fault lies with every law enforcement officer who dealt with Jones from the moment he was arrested.

"At all times, with a simple phone call, the John Doe officers could have verified whether or not Mark Crumble was already confined, yet they failed to do so," reads the lawsuit. "At all times, the John Doe officers had access to the fingerprints of Mark Crumble. Crumble had been previously arrested, and his fingerprints stored in the Missouri Uniform Law Enforcement System and the National Crime Information Center. Use of these systems would have verified that Travis Jones was not Mark Crumble."

In a Kafka-esque twist, the same Sheriff's department that reportedly told the court that Crumble was behind bars in late October, told the court in November that Crumble had finally been served that warrant, this time while using the alias "Travis Jones" (this despite the fact that Crumble had never before been booked using an alias).

Jones was then booked into the St. Louis County Jail under the same name and the same case numbers as another inmate—Mark Crumble.

Three months later, Jones' fingerprints were finally run against those in the database belonging to Crumble. According to the lawsuit, on Jan. 21, "the St. Louis City Circuit Court entered an Order stating that Plaintiff was not Mark Crumble and the alias 'Mark Crumble' should be stricken from any record associated with Plaintiff, and Plaintiff was finally released."

NEXT: All Power to the Neighborhoods

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  1. That’s the way the Travis crumbles.

    *(Sorry, the pun was just sitting there.)*

    1. You’re a complete degenerate, Aresen. Even worse, a Canadian degenerate.

      1. The last two words are redundant.

        1. I felt it was important to emphasize the degeneracy.

          1. I felt it was important to emphasize the degeneracy.

            That’s like emphasizing the sun by pointing a flashlight at it. Just say “Canadian” and be done with it.

  2. I hope he wins $10M in taxpayer dollars. Maybe then people will wake up and actually demand accountability for the assholes that deprived this man of his freedom.

    By the way, what happened to that guy in San Diego (I think) that spent all that time in a DEA lockup? Has he sued yet?

    1. I bet they have retained the fingerprint records and Mr Jones is now permanently in the LEO database.

    2. Looks like Chong sued for $20M. In that case, Mr. Jones ought to sue for around $360M.

      1. Presumably, Jones got water during his stay. Chong didn’t.

        1. So, how much will they deduct from his settlement for the water he consumed during his stay?

    3. I think he should be entitled to the entire police pension fund.

      Alright, it’s probably in the red currently, but still.

  3. Isn’t that kidnapping?

    1. What you or I would call “kidnapping,” they would call a “training opportunity.”

      Policies will be amended, training will be conducted (on the taxpayer dime), and this man will never get those three months of his life back.

    2. Yeah I would think millions of dollars in reparations and criminal charges leading to life imprisonment for those responsible would be what happens in a just society.

    3. I would think that arresting a person without either a warrant or probable cause would certainly constitute kidnapping. There may not be sufficient mens rea for a criminal prosecution, but there ought to be enough to win a tort action for false imprisonment.

    4. Not just kidnapping, kidnapping under color of law. 18 USC 241 and 242. Potentially a death penalty case for every pig and screw involved.

      We can only hope.

  4. The incompetence of many police departments doesn’t surprise me, since they’re part of the government. What surprises me is how the incompetence of the police gets a pass from so many traditional conservatives. Independent of whether you think the laws police enforce are valid, isn’t it troublesome to exercise so much power with so much foolhardiness? I hope incidents like this, along with the recent civil forfeiture awareness helped along by George Will and others, makes people realize that innocence isn’t good enough to avoid all this. You can be “tough on crime”, whatever the hell that means, and still be very wary of giving police too much power, too much discretion, or too little oversight.

    1. Well, the interesting thing is that the same conservatives don’t seem to want to be tough on crime committed by LEOs.

  5. Last week, Jones filed suit in federal court . . . the suit . . . seeks damages for Jones, and “injunctive relief to challenge those customs and policies which result in the wrongful detention of misidentified parties.”

    Unless charges of false imprisonment are brought against the officials whose job it was to prevent this from happening, then nothing will change. Mr. Jones will get a fat payday, courtesy of you and me, but not one whit of accountability will have introduced into the system.

    1. False imprisonment?

      Why not kidnapping?

      1. Why not kidnapping?

        Good point. Kidnapping too. Sentence to be served in the same cell where Mr. Jones did his time.

      2. Kidnapping may turn on illegal intent. False imprisonment is broader. But toss in both and see what sticks.

        1. That’s thinking like a prosecutor!

        2. What would be needed to prove illegal intent? Say Travis even presented ID to the arresting officer (I don’t know if he did). Would seeing this, and arresting anyway, constitute illegal intent? If it doesn’t, what would?

          1. If it doesn’t, what would?

            Obviously, you’ve never dealt with our criminal justice system.

    2. I agree. This is one area that the political process could never remedy. I suppose all the locals could vote out the mayor, and a new one would appoint a different police chief, who would institute cultural reform, and ten years later we see some changes. Like you said, that will never happen, and criminal charges are the only way to deal with it. Contrast that with the Blagojevich scandal, where you could at least argue that the political process would create accountability, so long as information is good.

      1. St. Louis (the city) is thoroughly controlled by a Democratic machine.

    3. I am willing to bet 10 – 1 that there is already a ruling or law that says that cops cannot be prosecuted for this kind of thing in effect in St Louis. (Balko has pointed to numerous laws to that intent in various jurisdictions, I’m just not sure whether St. Louis is one of them.)

      I am also willing to bet a hundred jillion Internet Quadroons that, even if it were legally possible to prosecute any of the responsible parties, it will never happen.

      1. Quadroons

        RRRAAAAAAAACCCCCCCIIIIIIISSSSSSSTTTTTT!!!!

        1. O my effing Pudd’nhead Wilson! I completely forgot about that meaning.

          Just like I forgot that United Statesians are hypersensitive about usage.

          1. Just don’t let it happen again, buddy!

            1. He’s not your buddy, guy!

              1. Don’t call me guy, friend!

  6. This is sadly more common than people realize. For instance, most background searched for new employment are run based on Name and DOB (date of birth). You would be surprised (or maybe not) how many false positives this creates in the verification process.

    Most cops and state troopers use a system that also runs the info based on name and DOB. In many cases the officer will run an additional check to see if the SS# (social security number) matches the rest of the info, but not all of them do. Many people have been detained unlawfully because of a failure to cross check the available information, and the obvious problems this creates are never addressed.

    (disclaimer:I fix problems similar to this story -but usually not as terrible- for a living)

    1. At what points in the process do the checks take place, Tman?

      1. Typical false positive scenario:

        You get pulled over for speeding, cop runs your info based on name and DOB. Suddenly the cop arrests you and puts you in the back of his car because the system says there is a warrant for your arrest based on charges from another state, jurisdiction, etc. When you tell the cop it wasn’t you, most of them will do an additional search for more identifying information, but some don’t and simply take you to the local precinct to let them sort it out. “Not his problem”. Most cases get resolved at that point, but some -such as poor Mr. Jones in this story- do not and the mistake gets compounded to the point that people get unlawfully incarcerated.

        Good times.

        1. I’ve heard NHP (NV Highway Patrol) run people. They don’t have computers in the car and have to call in to a dispatcher. They usually ask for a check based on name, DOB, and particulars like sex, height, weight, hair, etc.

          The few times I’ve heard one where the cop asks for ‘wants’ with just a name and DOB, the dispatcher responds that if they only run it with that, they will get ‘wants’. Usually the trooper goes for more info.

          In some cases, the dispatcher reports that they didn’t find anything even running variations of the name, etc. so I assume they typically run multiple variations of the name in most/all cases.

          In some cases, I’ve heard them report back that they got a match on Name, DOB, hair and eye color. When they read back the weight/height, the trooper replies that the “Subject” (that’s the only term they use) doesn’t match that height, weight, or ethnicity. In which case, the dispatcher will report back ‘no match’.

          If they can get this level of presumed accuracy over the radio, there is ZERO excuse for a police agency missing things like the fact that the guy is already in jail.

        2. Don’t they scan your DL? I mean, DL numbers should be unique, no?

          1. I know they aren’t in IL.

      2. At what points in the process do the checks take place, Tman?

        The only check in this story will be the one the city council approves cutting in lieu of admitting any responsibility or criminal behavior in the matter.*

        *Unless they point out any possible criminal past this man may have had in an attempt to smear his reputation and distract from their woeful negligence.

    2. so it helps to have an obscure name? Like Mr. Anus Tillywinks?

      1. Using my real name on a public board is not cool, Humungus.

        1. Stop whining, Anus.

  7. With no alt-text explaining this, I am left confused why Riggs put up a picture of his room with the article.

    1. That’s actually where the interns stay at Reason headquarters.

    2. That’s Riggs’ office at reason HQ. He’s not allowed out during the work day because he might maul one of the female staff members. They learned their lesson already.

      1. Is that where Lucy’s been? Riggs! You bastard!

        1. Yeah – WTF happened to Steigerwald?

        2. Yeah, he mauled her pretty badly. She’s recovered physically pretty well, but psychologically she may never recover.

          You’re a sick man, Riggs.

          1. Dammit, Riggs! She was just one day away from retirement! One day!

          2. Sunlight bothers me.

            1. “See sunbeam, go berserk.”

        3. Where the Hell is Lucy? I occasionally check the masthead to see if she is still listed as an associate editor and has not been banished to the non-person status of “contributor”.

      2. “The doctors managed to reset her jaw more or less. Saved one of her eyes. His pulse never got above 85, even when he ate her tongue.”

    3. I thought the money from the last fundraiser was going to painting the rooms at Reason’s DC headquarters mauve instead of that two-tone green. What the fuck, Gillespie?

      1. Well, and registration, which I think we all agree is a win-win.

        1. I withdraw my complaint.

  8. See, it all worked out in the end.

    1. Right. This is part of the new professionalism Scalia talks about.

  9. “It’s not my fault that Buttle’s heart condition didn’t appear on Tuttle’s file!”

    1. A great performance by Michael Palin. The goofy torturer.

      1. One of the great movies of recent times.

        For some reason, I don’t think its available on disc.

        1. Lots of words so this doesn’t get marked as spam again…

          Here you go!
          http://www.amazon.com/s/?url=s&tag=reasonfoundation-20…..imdb-adbox

  10. St. Louis Police: TOP. MEN.

  11. We do that here just in case. He musta done sumpthin’.

  12. Look, nobody got executed, and if they did they probably had it coming. Why do you hate police?

  13. So why did they arrest this guy in the first place? Were the cops just wandering around with an unserved warrant, it got to be donut time, so they just cuffed the first person they saw?

    1. The complaint says Jones has no idea why he, specifically, was arrested. I can only hope he at least looked like the guy, or lived at his old address, or something, but it’s all guesswork until the PD says something (or discovery happens).

  14. This would not have happened to a sovereign citizen.

    …just saying.

  15. But remember, you got nothing to worry about unless you’re guilty.

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