Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Innocent Liberty Township man exonerated after 10 days in jail

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By KEVIN NEVERS

A Liberty Township man has been completely exonerated after spending more than a week in the Porter County Jail--charged with a pair of Class B felonies--when his attorney proved that a Drug Task Force (DTF) agent wrongly identified him as a cocaine dealer.

Let the record show that Steven M. Thompson is innocent. That he was not the man--subsequently identified as a Steven Thompson with a different middle initial and a different DOB--caught on surveillance tape selling coke and a controlled substance to a confidential informant.

Let the record also show that Thompson was incarcerated for 10 days at PCJ, after his arrest on May 5. That he lost his job. And that he nearly lost his home.

Finally, let the record show that Thompson’s attorney, Bob Harper, diligently proved his client’s innocence and that DTF Director Bob Taylor--on learning of Thompson’s innocence--apologized to Thompson personally and called his employer in a successful bid to have him reinstated in his job.

“It really felt like crap,” Thompson told the Chesterton Tribune today. “They were trying to hit me with a six-to-20. They were trying to hit me with two six-to-20s, two B felonies. It wasn’t really a fun 10 days. It wasn’t really a fun month.”

“I was trying to get the word out, ‘You’ve got the wrong guy,’” Thompson recalled.

And the cops and the jailers would go, “‘Yeah, everybody says that.’”

“And I would go, ‘No, seriously, you got the wrong guy.’”

Fortunately for Thompson, his loved ones stuck by him. “I’ve got really good friends and family who knew it wasn’t me, who knew it couldn’t be me,” he said.

But still.

“I get out of jail,” Thompson said. “I get home. I realize I’ve lost my job. I’m ready to lose my house.”

Here’s how the mistake happened.

The real drug dealer was videotaped making the sale to a confidential informant (CI), DTF Director Taylor told the Tribune this morning. Turns out, there is a certain physical resemblance between the innocent Thompson and the other one and, in any case, the suspect is wearing a hoodie in the video. It was a good enough identification for the CI, who viewed the tape; and it was a good enough one for the DTF agent, who prepared the paperwork for the arrest.

And good enough isn’t nearly, Taylor said. “It was a horrible thing and my agent just feels terrible that he turned in the wrong information. You really got to be careful when you accuse somebody of something. The agent put me in a bad spot. He put the unit in a bad spot. We’re very fortunate this doesn’t happen more often. We make thousands of arrests. We just have to be careful making identification.”

Taylor, on learning of the mistake, called Thompson directly to apologize. Taylor also called Thompson’s boss and asked him to give Thompson his job back. The boss said that he would, that Thompson was “a very good employee.”

Taylor nevertheless concedes that it’s tough to do damage control in this sort of situation. “It’s a terrible thing.”

Harper, for his part, cracked the case after getting Thompson bonded out of jail. “We got a hold of the surveillance tape,” he said. “Although there’s a similarity, you could tell it wasn’t the same person.”

At the same time, Harper ran the license plate on the vehicle which the suspect drove to the deal. It came back to a woman married to a Steven Thompson with a different middle initial and DOB.

Enough to begin work on a motion to dismiss the charges against Thompson. Which he was duly doing when he got a call from the attorney representing the other Steven Thompson’s wife. “And she said they got the wrong guy,” Harper told the Tribune.

Harper filed his motion on Friday. And Taylor and the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office discovered the mistake on Monday. Harper did say that, to its credit, there was nothing like foot-dragging on the part of law enforcement, that once it was clear a mistake had been made the wheels of justice finally began to turn, and turn quickly, on behalf of the innocent Steven Thompson.

“We’ve apologized for all the inconvenience to Mr. Thompson,” Prosecuting Attorney Brian Gensel told the Tribune. “And we’re doing everything in our power to make things right, starting with getting him his job back.”

“The protocol we followed has been used successfully in literally thousands of arrests,” Gensel added. “But a series of unusual circumstances--including the fact that Mr. Thompson has the same name as a suspected drug dealer--unfortunately converged and a bad mistake was made.”

Thompson appears to be better humored about the thing than would seem humanly possible. “It all panned out,” he said. “I’m thankful to my friends and family.”

And Thompson’s supposed to start work again on Monday, after his boss gets the paperwork sorted out with HR.

Now he’s hoping that the powers that be in Porter County see their way clear to stepping up. “I’m not looking to get rich on this,” Thompson said.

But he did spend 10 days in jail, lost so many days’ wages, and nearly the roof over his head.

“It was tough.”

 

Posted 6/4/2014