January 20 2019
Ashland police say they're in the midst of determining why officers arrested an innocent African-American man following a disturbance at an Ashland store Monday evening.
The 20-year-old was held in the Jackson County Jail Monday overnight on a harassment charge that falsely accused him of making a disturbance at a store along Siskiyou Boulevard.
Ashland police Chief Tighe O'Meara said that a basic review of store surveillance video should have been enough to clear the man, who happened to be walking near the store and fit an employee's basic suspect description of "an African-American male wearing a dark sweatshirt."
The person taken into custody didn't look like the suspect captured on store surveillance video, according to O'Meara.
The harassment case remains unsolved.
"I think there was a failure to conduct some basic follow-up police work," O'Meara said, adding that a conclusion was derived "much too quickly."
"He should never have seen the inside of a police car," O'Meara said.
The man spent roughly 10 hours in jail. He was booked at 9:53 p.m. Monday, and released because of overcrowding at 7:57 a.m. Tuesday, according to Jackson County Jail logs.
The man told officers they'd apprehended the wrong person, according to O'Meara, but the chief said it's a common protest.
"He did plead his innocence, but that's pretty common among suspects," O'Meara said.
Police learned they'd arrested the wrong man Tuesday morning, after the man's father contacted a police sergeant who used to work as a school resource officer at Ashland High School, where the man had attended school. The father told police the harassment case didn't fit his son's character, prompting a review of the evidence.
O'Meara said officers failed to determine they had the right suspect in ways such as reviewing surveillance video, bringing in a witness, or confirming the suspect was involved through consensual conversation.
"As far as we can tell, the officer's done none of these," O'Meara said.
Jail records show the man was arrested by Officer Brett Bibby, but O'Meara said a backup officer and a shift supervisor also were involved to varying degrees.
Ashland police contacted the Jackson County District Attorney's Office Tuesday morning to ensure any pending charges were dropped, according to a police release, and O'Meara met with the man and his father at their home Tuesday afternoon, where O'Meara apologized for the department's mistake.
"We're taking it very seriously," O'Meara said.
Ashland police have begun an internal investigation to determine what policies were violated, and what consequences are appropriate for the three officers involved in the wrongful arrest — be it disciplinary actions or added training. O'Meara said he hoped to have the investigation completed within two weeks.
"It's such a disservice to this young man," O'Meara said. "We're getting it out there as quickly as we can, and hopefully we can move past it."
Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.
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