Insane Case of Mistaken Identity: Woman Arrested, Told She Is Actually Dead, Held Anyway
ST. LOUIS (CN) - St. Louis police falsely arrested a woman, claiming she was someone who was already dead, and continued to hold her in jail and give her the runaround after acknowledging that the warrant was for a dead person, the woman claims in court.
Shannon Renee McNeal sued the St. Louis Division of Corrections, the City of St. Louis, all of the members of the St. Louis City Police Board, St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson, several police officers and St. Louis Circuit Clerk Jane Schweitzer, on Monday in Federal Court.
McNeal claims she was arrested by a Ferguson police officer on Aug. 6, 2009 during a routine traffic stop. The officer told her she had an outstanding warrant in St. Louis.
Despite saying the warrant was not for her and begging the officer not to arrest her in front of her children who were screaming and crying in her car, McNeal says, she was arrested on a drug possession charge that carried a $20,000 bond.
The warrant was actually for Shannon Raquel McNeal, who was 13 years younger than the plaintiff and who had been murdered three months before the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department issued a warrant for her, the lawsuit states.
"The Ferguson booking officer acknowledged that plaintiff's fingerprints did not match but plaintiff was told that she would have to have the SLMPD sort it out since they were the entity that issued the warrant for her arrest," the complaint states.
McNeal was transferred to the St. Louis Justice Center the next day.
"Plaintiff was again fingerprinted by SLMPD Doe Defendant #4, but her fingerprints came up as 'No Match,'" the complaint states.
"Plaintiff told SLMPD Doe Defendant #4 that she had been arrested by mistake.
"Plaintiff went to pre-trial and spoke with SLMPD Doe Defendant #5.
"SLMPD Doe Defendant #5 looked up information on an SLMPD computer and
told plaintiff, 'This is not you.'
"SLMPD Doe Defendant #5 informed plaintiff that she would have to go before a judge and the judge would release her."
Despite that acknowledgment, McNeal says, the defendants continued to detain her and process her as Shannon Raquel McNeal.
"The SLMPD transferred plaintiff to the custody of the City Division of Corrections," the complaint states.
"During that transfer, plaintiff was assigned a Division of Corrections Caseworker,
Corrections Doe Defendant # 1.
"During her encounter with Corrections Doe Defendant # 1, the caseworker pulled up photos of proper defendant Shannon Raquel McNeal and concluded that those were not photos of plaintiff.
"However, Corrections Doe Defendant # 1 told plaintiff that she would need to get
an attorney or 'call down to the prosecutors.'
"Then, plaintiff was told she had to go to the Division of Corrections' Workhouse.
"Plaintiff was forced to strip and put on an orange prison jumpsuit.
"Plaintiff was then forced to shower and be sprayed with pesticides by Corrections
Doe Defendants #2 and #3.
"The pesticides burned Plaintiff's stomach and back.
"Plaintiff's doctors have told her that her skin cannot be repaired.
"Plaintiff was incarcerated for several days as she was unable to retain an attorney.
"Plaintiff never went before a judge.
"On or about August 7, 2009, St. Louis Circuit Judge Thomas Frawley ordered plaintiff immediately released.
"Judge Frawley indicated on his Order that the proper defendant, Shannon Raquel
McNeal was deceased.
"On August 8, 2009 plaintiff was released from custody."
Aside from the burns, McNeal claims she lost her job as a bus driver for several months and had to pay to expunge the record to clear her name. McNeal says that searches in some public databases still attach the felony to her and that she suffers from high blood pressure as a result.
McNeal seeks punitive damages for false arrest and imprisonment and violations of her Fourth Amendment rights. She also wants the defendants ordered to develop and implement adequate training programs for its officers and employees about citizen's rights under the Fourth Amendment.
McNeal is represented by James O. Hacking III.
The lawsuit is yet another that claims the SLMPD arrested and held the wrong person.
Earlier this year, St. Louis paid $62,500 to settle a federal lawsuit filed by Travis S. Jones, who was mistakenly held for more than two months. Jones claimed that he was arrested and jailed even though the man authorities were actually looking for was already incarcerated.
Cedric Wright, who also is represented by Hacking, has another lawsuit against the defendants pending in Federal Court. Wright claims he spent more than eight weeks in jail on charges against another man.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch conducted an investigation in 2013 that found about 100 people had been mistakenly arrested in recent years and collectively spent at least 2,000 days in jail. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce and other city officials dispute the paper's findings.