When authorities arrested Marvin Ray Washington last year and told him he was wanted in Mississippi, he told them there had to be a mistake. Check the fingerprints, he pleaded.
No one did — not the Corona police who arrested him, not the Riverside County sheriff’s deputies who booked him into jail, not even the public defender.
Washington was held for almost two months and driven 1,800 miles to Lincoln County, Miss., before a judge there declared a mistake had been made.
Now, Washington is suing the Corona police and Riverside County sheriff’s departments, and the Riverside County public defender’s office, for unspecified damages in a case of mistaken identity that authorities say is extremely rare.
The truck driver and former Marine said he lost his job as a result of the mix-up. He and his wife, Earma, also had to move out of their Corona home and into a Riverside apartment because they couldn’t keep up with the mortgage payments.
“I tried every step of the way to get someone’s attention,” Washington, 47, said this week.
The Corona police and Riverside County sheriff’s departments, and the public defender’s office declined to talk specifically about the case, citing the pending litigation.
Responding to a records request from Washington, Corona Police Chief Richard Gonzales stated in a letter in March that “our officers are only able to act on the information provided at the time of your arrest which, in this case, indicated that you were the subject of the outstanding warrant.”
Sgt. Dennis Gutierrez, a Sheriff’s Department spokesman, said in an e-mail that without obvious indications the person arrested is not the person in the warrant, such as “wrong race, obvious age difference,” jail staff would not investigate further.
The Inland Washington, who was born in Mississippi and moved to California in 1982, has had many run-ins with the law. He was in and out of prison from 1992 to 2002 for grand theft, vehicle theft, making false financial statements and burglary, according to California Department of Corrections records.
Washington’s lawsuit filed in Riverside County Superior Court last month says authorities failed him by not making a reasonable effort to verify that he was the man sought in the Mississippi warrant.
Washington’s arrest report states that Corona police stopped him Aug. 19, 2006, for having an unregistered vehicle. Police arrested him after a records check showed a man with his name had a warrant for contempt of court in Lincoln County, Miss.
Washington said he was fingerprinted at the Corona police station, and then booked into the Robert Presley Detention Center, where he was fingerprinted again.