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Report: Hundreds wrongly locked up in L.A. jails

Posted: December 26, 2011 2:00 p.m.
Updated: December 26, 2011 2:00 p.m.

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Almost 1,500 people have been mistakenly arrested and locked up in Los Angeles County jails over the last five years, and some people stayed behind bars for weeks before the error was realized, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

In many cases, people wrongly imprisoned had the same names as wanted criminals or had their identities stolen, the newspaper's investigation found.

Victims of mistaken identification said they were often ignored by officers and staff at the Sheriff's Department jails when they tried to point out their innocence.

"It's bureaucratic sloth and indifference," said attorney Donald W. Cook, who has represented more than a dozen clients who were held on warrants meant for other people.

"They don't want to take the heat for letting someone go who a cop has decided, no matter how tentatively, is the subject of a warrant."

For example, a mechanic spent a week in jail in 1989 before authorities realized he wasn't the suspect wanted on a warrant for a deadly drunk driving accident. He was jailed again in 2009 on the same warrant and spent more than a month behind bars.

The number of people mistaken for criminals makes up a small percentage of the county's 15,000 inmates, the sheriff's department said. Every effort is made to avoid jailing the wrong suspects and the department has a policy to investigate whenever inmates claim they're innocent, officials said.

But the Times cited records showing that sheriff's officials launched investigations in only a small fraction of the 1,480 wrongful incarcerations that the newspaper found.

Those wrongly detained often find there's little they can do once released. State and federal laws generally protect police from lawsuits as long as officers were acting on a valid warrant.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.




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