A Police Officer’s Experience with Mistaken Arrest

Posted: October 14, 2010 by smallmouth63 in Uncategorized

Another high-profile murder case has gone awry again because of another “rush to judgment” by law enforcement.

The case has been all over the news for the past few days; a construction worker in Will County, IL was first fatally shot and then an IN farmer at work in his field was shot. Both shootings were senseless and appear random. Within hours of the shootings, a light-blue 1992 pick-up was pulled over by a police officer and the driver questioned. The pick-up and the driver both matched a possible suspect and vehicle to the shootings as identified to police by “eyewitness” descriptions.

Unlike most situations of a possible suspect being stopped however, the police officer making the stop did not arrest the driver at that time or even search the vehicle (as he probably would have if the driver was a civilian) because the driver turned out to also be a police officer (on disability leave).

Instead, three days later when the police arrested Lynwood police officer Brian Dorian, at his home and impounded his truck, the police seemed pretty certain that he was responsible for the shootings. The cold-blooded nature of the shootings, their senselessness, and the fact that the suspect was a police officer started the media’s major examination of Dorien’s life and any past transgressions. Right away, Dorian’s scowling mug-shot photo is released and media stories begin to suggest contradictory sides to the man. Friends and neighbors say he appeared to act normally before the shootings, but details are given of his involvement in a past car accident which killed a teenage boy for which he was later sued, and of changes in his employment history. Dorian is jailed under a huge $2.5 million dollar bail. The family of the teenager killed speak of their on-going dissatisfaction with the result of the car accident investigation.

Brian Dorian sits in jail for two days before he is suddenly released by police on a signature bond, and the charges against him are dropped in court the next day. Will County police concede that computer evidence taken from Dorian’s computer show that he could not have committed the shootings and that they were mistaken in arresting him as a suspect.

Now, Will County police are facing criticism from Dorian’s attorney that, “They were trying to put pieces of a puzzle together that didn’t fit,” attorney Dave Carlson said after murder charges were formally dropped today against Dorian. “Their mindset was very close-minded. They thought he did this and they were going to do whatever it took to get him.” And, “Tim Smith, a semi-retired sergeant with the Lynwood police and a close friend of Dorian’s, said Dorian had been through a “traumatic experience” and isn’t ready to speak publically about his arrest. I’ve known Brian Dorian a long time and he’s not himself,” said Smith, who was Dorian’s supervisor on the Lynwood force for five years. “He’s got the thousand-yard stare like someone coming back from war.”

Brian Dorian’s plight is now drawing a lot of sympathetic attention from the public because it appears that he has gone through a lot of public humiliation, personal suffering, and damage to his reputation as a result of an undeserved mistaken arrest. By focusing on the wrong man, the police have possibly also screwed up their chances of catching the real shooter. “Four days (during Dorian’s detention) the killer is out there and nobody looking for him,” said Dave Carlson.

The police investigation into the shootings will continue, but it is a very good example of the effects of a police investigation being botched up as the result of the authorities being certain (but wrong) that they have found the right person responsible for the crime that was committed, and then focusing upon that person to the meaningful exclusion of other possible suspects.

We direct readers to a collection of articles on the Chicago Tribune newspaper website (CLICK ON LINK HERE TO ACCESS THESE ARTICLES) which relate Brian Dorian’s ordeal from start-to-finish.

There are a few things we want to point out here:

First, Brian Dorian was extremely lucky. Mistaken arrests happen to other people all the time. We never believe that it will happen to ourselves, but it does. When it does, it is very frightening, and often, very difficult to fight…“Lake County Sheriff Roy Dominguez said…he wasn’t surprised the charges were dropped, saying information clearing a suspect is always possible…”

The Sheriff may make this claim, but many say that that is not the case. One reason given is that often, people who are really innocent, often have no alibi for the time a crime was committed. Think about this: for 24 hours in your day, how much of your time can be alibied by either a reliable person or by technology with something suffice enough to stand up in court. Most people would have to rely upon family or work, but sometimes this can be hard to do, especially if you are a single individual, living alone. This is Richard Wanke’s situation in relation to the Clark murder, when he states he was at his apartment at the time of the shooting but was apparently not noticed when he was outside shoveling snow off the sidewalks. By contrast, police have noted that it is often guilty individuals who will present alibis for crimes which are devised in advance. Brian Dorian was extremely lucky that his computer alibied him. He must be thanking this fact every day!

Second, Brian Dorian was also extremely fortunate that he is a cop. If he had not been a cop, it is possible that, innocent or not, he would be in jail presently. According to his attorney, Dorian directed police to his computer at the outset, but in their initial search of it the police stopped short of the time of the shootings and did not check it for later, less visible activity. The police will willing to release him only after his computer validated his alibi. The police are criticized for taking four days to check the computer more thoroughly and only following a meeting with his attorney, yet Dorian was extremely fortunate that it did only take them four days to do so. It is well-known that during most investigations, (even high-profile cases) forensic and computer evidence can take time, sometimes months to be conducted. The police considered computer evidence seized from Richard Wanke’s apartment to be important evidence, and Clark’s murder is of the highest-priority, but they took much longer to review it than in Dorian’s case.

The push to quickly exonerate Brian Dorian came in large part because he was a cop, and he had other members of law enforcement, as well as friends and family speaking out in his favor from the outset. Some of these voices carried weight. Lynwood Police Chief Russell Pearson issued a statement upon his release:

“The Will County State’s Attorney owes the victims of the attacks, their familes, Brian Dorian, the officers of the Lynwood Police Department, and the residents of the Village of Lynwood an apology for rushing to judgment, thereby causing a great deal of pain and suffering for everyone involved,” said Pearson in a news release. “…Earlier, Pearson had warned against a “rush to judgment” about Dorian…”

Most defendants don’t get a local police chief cautioning the public in advance about “rushing to judgment” on their guilt or innocence. Nor do police chiefs demand public apologies from neighboring jurisdictions be made even when mistakes are known to happen. And, most defendants do not get released from jail early, ahead of the time when charges will be formally dropped against them in court. Instead, most defendants have a difficult time finding attorneys who will act aggressively from the outset as Dorian’s attorneys did. This is due in large part because many defendants are either unfamiliar with attorneys prior to being arrested, lack immediate access to them, or simply can’t afford to hire them. The majority, like Richard Wanke, must instead rely upon court-appointed attorneys to ultimately show up, often over-burdened with other work, at some point to see them.

Third, as a result of his mistaken arrest, Brian Dorian is reportedly a changed man, no longer, even in demeanor, as he was before, but still fortunate. He may be altered due in large part to the shock of finding himself in jail, on the other side of the bars and finding the whole process of being publicly arrested, having his property searched and seized, being processed and then sitting in jail innocent, but unknowing and powerless to be unexpectedly so much more cruel, random, and uncaring than he ever thought possible. Perhaps he has been reflecting upon all the individuals he has arrested prior to this and realizing how little he actually knew of them and their predicaments up to this point in time, even knowing the system as well as he did. Perhaps this experience is making he reflect upon the complete costs, in so many small and not so small ways, inflicted upon those arrested who expect it and doubly harsh to those who would never anticipate it.

But, Brian Dorian is most fortunate because he will largely escape the long-term consequences and aftermath of a mistaken arrest: the loss of employment and becoming unemployable; the possible loss of all income and accumulating debt due to financial and medical bills which can become insurmountable, the human toll in stress and the breaking of bonds with friends and family, and the probable loss of all property and personal possessions as well as simply the loss and perhaps waste of time, perhaps years. No one who has not gone through the combined effects of a simultaneous divorce, death, and disability can imagine the consequences and social isolation incurred as a result of many mistaken arrests, most of which will not be compensated for or regained afterward.

Brian Dorian is still, very, very, very lucky. He wasn’t held in jail under suspicion for six months as Richard Wanke was with most of the time also spent in segregation with loss of property and legal papers, and unable to regain his liberty after.  And due to suspicion, he has not lost his job, property, medical coverage, personal safety and security and income, or accumulated debt with no end in sight for resolution, as Diane Chavez and many other individuals have.

“…They just didn’t do the stuff they could’ve done at the beginning…” according to Dave Carlson. “…We can’t be making decisions based upon such little evidence and affecting people’s lives like this…”

“…Defense attorney Kathleen Zellner, who handled the Fox case and also represented some hotel owners caught up in the ill-fated “Operation Sleepover,” said the blame primarily rests on the sheriff’s office…”The problem is really with the sheriff’s department relying on eyewitness testimony,” she said. “It’s a step above a jailhouse informant.”

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