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."