WASHINGTON – A federal judge said Charles Brooks cannot sue the state or the assistant state’s attorney who left him in jail for 29 days on a sexual assault charge, even though officials knew they had the wrong Charles Brooks behind bars.
But U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr. on Tuesday let stand Brooks’ suit against Prince George’s County and the county police detective for wrongful imprisonment and violation of due process, even though the detective told prosecutors they had the wrong man, according to court papers.
Brooks’ attorney said he will press the case against the county and the police detective, Cpl. Candace Santos. But if they lose that case, said Kenneth McPherson, he is prepared to appeal Williams’ dismissal of the state and former Assistant State’s Attorney Lloyd Johnson from the case.
“I think Judge Williams made an error in expecting Johnson to expect Santos to take action on this,” said McPherson. “I believe the judge made factual findings that he is not entitled to do….It’s an issue the jury is required to resolve, not the judge.”
The case began on June 26, 1996, when Santos filled out an arrest warrant for a Charles Brooks in connection with a sexual assault. Shortly after the warrant was executed, Santos realized that she had listed the wrong Charles Brooks in the warrant.
Once Santos realized the error, she called Johnson and alerted him to the mistake, according to court documents. She also visited Johnson personally, according to Brooks’ suit, to tell him of the mistake and she believed he would fix it or quash her defective warrant.
But that was never done.
Brooks, who was being held in Baltimore City Jail on an unrelated domestic assault charge, was supposed to be released on May 29, 1997, after two months behind bars. Instead, he continued to be held in custody for another 29 days as a result of the warrant from Prince George’s County.
As soon as Brooks showed up in court on the Prince George’s County charge, however, officials immediately realized they had the wrong guy and he was released.
Brooks sued in Prince George’s County Circuit Court in 1998. He claimed in court papers that officials failed to correct their error, even after they had been told of it, and failed to “confirm the identification procedure, such as Social Security number, fingerprinting or even a match in the physical description.”
The suit was thrown out of state court in 1998, prompting a new suit in federal court.
In his ruling Tuesday, Williams said that, even though Johnson failed to quash the defective warrant, he and the state enjoyed immunity from such lawsuits because Johnson was acting in his official prosecutorial capacity.
Neither Johnson nor his attorney returned phone calls seeking comment on the case Thursday. Santos said she “thought it had already been taken care of,” but declined further comment.
Brooks could not be reached Thursday.