Will the real Mark Crumble please stand up?
That's basically what a Circuit Court judge had to ask when two prisoners were brought to her by the Sheriff's Department for Mark Crumble's probation violation hearing in January 2010.
The fake Mark Crumble, actually named Travis Jones, had been held in the workhouse of the St. Louis City Department of Corrections for three months, as Corrections, deputy sheriffs, and police officers ignored his claims of mistaken identity and, for some reason, never processed his fingerprints. Meanwhile the real Mark Crumble was already in custody across town.
Last week Jones filed suit against the the city agencies involved. His attorney, Teneil L. Kellerman, said she is confused about how such negligence and mismanagement could occur.
"Unfortunately it seems like the problem here is on every level," Kellerman told Daily RFT. "It's hard to see all of the different failures that added up to three months of Mr. Jones' life."
According to the suit, on November 7, 2009, officers of the police department detained and arrested Jones under suspicion of probation violation for felony cases in the name of Mark Crumble. Kellerman said that as far as she knows, Jones had no associations with Crumble, nor did he claim to be him or carry identifying information that would indicate that he went by that name. Warrants for Crumble's arrest do not list any aliases. But for some reason, arresting officers believed Jones to be Crumble and ignored him when he said he wasn't.
A week earlier the real Crumble had been taken into custody. The suit notes that "the Sheriff's Department had actual knowledge of Mark Crumble's whereabouts on October 30, 2009 and had the duty and ability to promptly serve the above mentioned capias warrants which would have cancelled them in various law enforcement databases." But for reasons unknown, the warrants were not cancelled after Crumble was taken into custody.
But wait. There a few more big failures of the justice system here. On the day he was arrested, Jones was brought to the St. Louis City Police Department, where he was fingerprinted and booked as Mark Crumble. The real Crumble's fingerprints were also stored in state and national databases. If anyone had bothered to use those systems when Jones was booked, they would have verified that Travis Jones was in fact not Mark Crumble.
Jones' case is hardly the first of mistaken identity and wrongful imprisonment in St. Louis City jails. The Post-Dispatch has reported four such cases since 2010. In each case sloppiness in the city's booking and identification system and general negligence left men wrongly accused and in three of the cases, imprisoned.
Jones' suit also notes that "at all times, with a simple phone call, John Doe officers could have verified whether or not Mark Crumble was already confined, yet they failed to do so."
The day Jones was arrested as Crumble, the Sheriff's Department notified the Circuit Court of St. Louis City that their man, Crumble, was now in custody. An almost identical call had been made a week earlier, when the real Crumble was arrested. Kellerman said they while her firm sees cases of wrongful imprisonment (generally related to similar names or confusion over aliases), this is the first time she has seen a case in which the correct inmate was already in custody.
"The Sheriff's Department did not nothing to investigate why they had two prisoners booked under the same name and case number," Kellerman said. The mistake was not discovered by law enforcement officers until sheriff's deputies brought both men in to appear at a probation violation hearing for Crumble.
The judge asked the defendant to rise and both men stood. The real Crumble promptly identified himself and Jones stated that he did not understand why he had been identified as Crumble for the last three months.
The court ordered a fingerprint analysis, and bingo bango, two weeks later a fingerprint technician finally compared the prints and Jones was a free man. What's the old saying? Justice is swift? Not really.
Check out a PDF of the suit here.