WASHINGTON – Tray Carter may have a beef with his brother — but he doesn’t have much of a beef left with police who arrested him in a 1999 case of mistaken identity, an appeals court has ruled.
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals partly reversed a lower court, saying that the Baltimore County police may have technically violated Carter’s Fourth Amendment rights during that arrest.
But the appeals judges on Wednesday otherwise upheld the district court, saying Carter could not sue the officers because he could not show that they intentionally violated his rights.
The case began in June 1998, when Carter’s brother, Reginald Carter, was twice arrested for shoplifting and gave police Tray’s name, Social Security number and criminal record both times.
When Reginald failed to appear for a September court date on the shoplifting charges, a judge issued a warrant for Tray. He was arrested nine months later during a routine traffic stop of a car in which he was a passenger.
Tray claimed that Officer Brian Kirk violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures by reaching into Tray’s pocket during a pat-down search and taking his driver’s license, court records said.
“If a (jury) determines . . . that Officer Kirk reached into Tray’s pocket without his consent to retrieve his loose driver’s license, then Tray will have established a technical violation of the Fourth Amendment,” the appellate court said.
But if a jury found such a violation, the court said, Tray could only recover “nominal damages” — which Assistant Baltimore County Attorney Paul Mayhew said would probably be $1.
Mayhew said he was pleased with the ruling, but could not say whether Tray would pursue the alleged Fourth Amendment issue. Tray’s attorney, Francis Collins, could not be reached for comment.
The court rejected Tray’s claim that officers violated his 14th Amendment right to due process, noting that they acted reasonably based on the information they had: Reginald successfully presented himself as Tray when arrested June 16 for shoplifting in a Value City store and June 19 in a Marshall’s store.
“Because the information that Mr. Carter’s brother provided was accurate, the officer had no reason” to suspect Reginald was not Tray, Mayhew said.
But court documents said that when Tray called “to check on his brother” after the second arrest, Officer Kerry Mohr discovered Reginald’s scam. She checked fingerprints — which required a test by state police — then refiled the charges against Reginald, listing “Tray Carter” as his alias, and contacted the state’s attorney’s office, central records and other authorities about the mistake.
But Mohr was only aware of Reginald’s June 19 arrest — the June 16 shoplifting charges remained pending under Tray’s name. When “Tray” did not show up for a hearing in that case, the warrant was issued that led to his traffic stop arrest in May 1999.
Tray was held for six days in the Baltimore County Detention Center before officials could straighten his identity out.
Tray sued the state, the Baltimore mayor, Baltimore County and other officials for “false arrest and malicious prosecution” in March 2001, but a district judge dismissed the case. But the appeals court said in July 2002 that the lower court “acted prematurely,” and it ordered a new hearing.
This time, Tray amended his suit to individually name the three police officers involved. His amended suit said Kirk violated his Fourth Amendment rights and that Mohr and Kenneth Smith Jr., who arrested Reginald on the shoplifting charges, had deprived Tray of “his liberty without due process of law in violation of the 14th Amendment” for not correcting the mix-up before he was arrested.
But District Court Judge Alexander Harvey dismissed the case again after “full discovery” proceedings, Mayhew said, and the appellate panel upheld much of that ruling Wednesday.
Tray had also sued Baltimore City police after they arrested and detained him for 36 days on a warrant for Reginald — whose file listed Tray Carter as an alias. The parties reached a settlement sometime after the case was appealed for the first time, court records said.
-30- CNS 04-01-04