Wednesday, February 03, 1999

Innocent man spends week in jail

The Cincinnati Enquirer

christopher k.
Christopher K.
christopher w.
Christopher W.
        When Christopher K. Richardson was arrested for domestic violence, he figured it would take only a few minutes to prove he was the wrong man.

        The Christopher Richardson police were looking for weighed 205 pounds and had brown hair, brown eyes, a different middle initial, no known place of employment and the nickname “Dogg.”

        Christopher K. Richardson weighs 130 pounds and has red hair, blue eyes, a job at a local bank and no nickname.

        “See,” he told the officers, “I'm not the right guy.”

        He spent the next seven days in jail anyway.

        Mr. Richardson finally persuaded authorities to release him Tuesday after prosecutors told a Hamilton County Municipal Court judge that he might be the victim of a “clerical error.”

        “I'm sorry this happened to you,” Judge William L. Mallory said. “Essentially what we've got here is a guy who's been sitting in jail for about a week, and he's not the right guy.”

        Mr. Richardson, 27, walked out of jail about an hour later, saying he was looking forward to going home.

        “It's a scary thing to think this could happen,” he said. “I was getting worried that if this wasn't cleared up, I'd be going to prison.”

        A few hours later, Christopher W. Richardson — the one wanted for domestic violence — was arrested at his girlfriend's home. Police found him “hiding under a bean bag chair.”

        Although it still is unclear why it took so long to identify the real suspect, Christopher K. Richardson said his troubles started Jan. 26 when he tried to pick up some new license plates.

        A clerk at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles told him she could not issue him the plates because her computer showed there were six warrants out for his arrest.

        Mr. Richardson said he called the police division's records department the next day in hopes of clearing up the problem. The clerk there told him he would have to come down in person.

        “I asked her if I'd be arrested when I got there,” Mr. Richardson said. “She said no.”

        Once there, he said, he learned that police were seeking a Christopher W. Richardson on charges of domestic violence and failing to comply with a police order.

        While the descriptions were nothing alike, the warrant for Christopher W. Richardson listed the same Social Security number as Christopher K. Richardson.

        “That was when two officers came in and told me they needed to arrest me,” Christopher K. Richardson said Tuesday. “They said it was the best way to clear it up.”

        His luck took another bad turn the next day when he went to court for his arraignment with a public defender. But because Mr. Richardson was not indigent, he did not qualify for a court-appointed attorney.

        Mr. Richardson said the public defender was removed from the case before he could argue for his release. He then went back to jail until his new attorney, Cathy Adams, got him another court date.

        “I was in there with guys who had been to prison,” Mr. Richardson said. “I wasn't in that league. The worst I'd done was a speeding ticket.”

        At his court hearing Tuesday, prosecutors agreed to his release until they could verify the suspect's correct identity. “We do have some suspicions that there obviously was a clerical error,” said Keith McGuire, supervisor of the jail's identification unit.

        The judge said he would formally dismiss the charges as soon as the complainant in the domestic violence case could be called into court to verify he was the wrong man.

        Ms. Adams said the main source of confusion was the Social Security number, which may have been mixed up in the records after a routine traffic stop last year. She said both men also were born in February 1971, although on different days.

        She said those similarities, however, should not have been enough to keep an innocent man in jail for a week.

        Asked whether he planned to pursue a lawsuit, Mr. Richardson declined to comment. Ms. Adams, however, said she wouldn't be surprised if he is considering it. “I suspect he is.”


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