Two CA Men Sue for False Arrest in DV Cases

The misuse of domestic violence laws and faulty police practices when DV is alleged just keep on coming.  This case out of San Carlos, California (San Jose Mercury News, 2/4/11) bears some striking similarities to this one out of Atherton, California, just a few miles away (Palo Alto Online, 2/2/10).

In the more recent of the two, it looks like Mark Littell Adams’s wife went to the doctor to have a finger splinted.  The doctor decided, on the basis of what we don’t yet know, that Mark had attacked her.  So he called the police who, Adams says, 

forced their way into his Kelton Avenue home on April 23 without a search warrant or probable cause, and arrested him on suspicion of domestic violence against his wife.

Prosecutors never filed charges against him and, three months later closed their file.  Now, Adams has gone to court requesting that a judge make a finding of actual innocence in his case.  If the judge agrees, Adams’s arrest record will be expunged.  He’s also filed suit for deprivation of his civil rights.

Meanwhile, Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said,

“The evidence wasn’t sufficient enough for us to prosecute, but we also believe the evidence does not show his innocence.”

That’s interesting because, in the earlier case out of Atherton, he said

“It was not sufficient (evidence) to prosecute, but it was not a case where we would agree to declaration of factual innocence.”

Maybe someone should write some new lines for Mr. Wagstaffe.  He’s overusing the ones he has.  That’s because a judge in the earlier case agreed with the Atherton man police had arrested and in fact issued a formal declaration of innocence.

That case involved a man named Jon Buckheit who was involved with an unnamed woman.  He placed a 911 call to police claiming she was being violent toward him, but, in an all-too-familiar outcome, they arrested him, not her.

Like Adams, he was arrested, like Adams he was never charged, like Adams he’s sued the police and county for violation of civil rights, like Adams he claimed actual innocence and like Adams it all came about amid allegations of domestic violence.  And in both cases it was the man who was arrested despite there being no obvious evidence of wrongdoing on his part.

One aspect of the Buckheit case that may or may not be present in the Adams case is that a police officer seems to have illegally altered the police report of the incident to  include an allegation of child abuse.  The officer who actually made the original report testified under oath that it had been altered by another officer.

For his part, Adams says that he’s found it hard to get a copy of the audio tapes of his own arrest.  That bears a definite resemblance to the same difficulties Buckheit had in getting his police report.  And, in yet a further similarity, Adams says he thinks the audio tapes may have been doctored.

We’ll see what happens in the two cases.  But what’s happened so far isn’t exactly new.  I’ve reported before that police are trained to believe that, in DV incidents, it’s men who are perpetrators and women who are victims, so it’s no great surprise when they act accordingly.  Indeed it’s those rare occasions when a woman is arrested on a DV charge that are the exceptions.

The most telling example of all comes from the training materials for Maine police officers answering domestic violence calls.  Not only are they written in almost exclusively gender-specific language, their hypothetical examples include not a single one in which officers are instructed to arrest the woman. 

That’s true even in the case in which both the woman and the man admit to officers that she hit him and he didn’t hit her.  Combined with objective evidence of injury, most people might think she would be the one arrested, but no; police learn that, once again, he’s the correct one to arrest even though he has committed no crime.

That looks a lot like what happened a continent away in the Adams and Buckheit cases.

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