Las Vegas Sun

April 18, 2014

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Court: Man mistakenly detained 11 times cannot sue Metro Police

CARSON CITY — Metro Police are immune from being sued by a man who says he was wrongly detained or arrested 11 times in a case of mistaken identity, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled.

According to court documents, the man, Francisco Gonzalez, shares the same name, birth date, height and eye color as a man suspected of dealing drugs.

North Las Vegas police issued a warrant in November 2007 for the arrest of the suspect, and the information was included in a law enforcement database.

Between June 2008 and August 2010, Metro Police repeatedly stopped or arrested Gonzalez based the information in the database. North Las Vegas eventually withdrew the information from the system, and since then there have been no more stops, according to court documents.

Gonzalez filed suit against Metro and North Las Vegas Police, but later dropped his action against North Las Vegas.

In a brief to the Supreme Court, attorneys for Gonzalez said Metro officers were “fully aware that they were arresting and detaining the incorrect person.”

The brief said the suspect was two years older than Gonzalez, lived in a different city and had different colored hair. Gonzalez also has a tattoo on his left arm which the suspect did not.

The Supreme Court, however, backed the ruling by Clark County District Court Judge Timothy Williams, who granted a pretrial summary judgment in favor of the police department.

“Although we are sympathetic to Gonzalez’s plight, we conclude that the decision to detain or arrest a person closely matching a warrant’s description is the type of decision that discretionary immunity should protect,” the Supreme Court said in its ruling.

Officers are faced with a difficult choice “between releasing a potential criminal closely matching the description of a valid warrant, or running the risk of potential civil liability on those close cases,” the ruling said.

In a footnote, the court said the police department has taken measures to avoid repeat cases of this type.

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