A Charles County jury awarded a $3 million verdict this week to a man who was wrongfully charged with shoplifting and fraud after police arrested a different man who gave a false name and escaped.
Police took almost three months to rectify the mistake, during which James Jackson III sat in jail until the case of mistaken identity could be rectified, the lawsuit says.
After a two-day trial and slightly more than an hour of deliberations, the jury awarded Jackson $3 million in noneconomic damages for negligence, which will be remitted to the state cap of $200,000, said Jackson’s attorney, Adam D. Perrelli of DeCaro, Doran, Siciliano, Gallagher & DeBlasis LLP in Bowie.
“We felt that the facts were pretty shocking. It seems as though the jury agreed with us,” Perrelli said on Thursday. “We asked the jury to compensate Mr. Jackson for losing three months of his life and I can only guess that’s what they did.”
In February 2013, Cpl. Jermain Jones from the Charles County Sheriff’s Office witnessed two black men running from a Best Buy store in Waldorf with two of its loss prevention agents running behind them. Jones chased the men and was able to detain one of them, the lawsuit says.
The detained man identified himself as James Jackson of Fort Washington. But, this man was not the James Jackson III the police would later detain, according to the lawsuit.
The “fake” Jackson was taken into police custody where he had a medical emergency and was taken to Civista Medical Center for treatment. However, the man gave medical staff a different name and information and fled the hospital before he was cleared, the lawsuit says.
About a month later, charges were filed in Maryland District Court in Charles County against James Jackson III, the plaintiff in this case, a different man than the one who was detained for shoplifting, the lawsuit says.
When no one showed up for an initial appearance, a warrant was issued for Jackson. The case was forwarded to Circuit Court, and the real Jackson received an arrest warrant in May. He was detained at Prince George’s County Detention Center until corrections officers could move him to Charles County, the lawsuit says.
At his bond hearing in Charles County a few days later, Jackson learned for the first time that he was charged with robbery, second-degree assault, felony theft and fraud. Jackson denied the allegations and “adamantly denied” that he was the person described in charging documents, the lawsuit says.
Jackson’s bond attorney pointed out the differences between the two men, including the four-inch difference in their respective heights, different addresses and that James Jackson is a very common name, the lawsuit says.
Judge Robert C. Nalley admitted the peculiarities of the situation and asked if anyone had asked Jones, the arresting police officer, to say whether this Jackson was the same man he apprehended in front of Best Buy. Jackson had not been identified by that officer, according to the lawsuit.
Nalley told the state to have the officer identify Jackson and set a $5,000 bond for Jackson that he could not pay. The state made no attempts to identify Jackson for almost three months until his public defender subpoenaed Jones, the lawsuits says.
Jackson was also injured by another inmate while incarcerated when he was struck behind the ear with no provocation, the lawsuit says.
He was ultimately released from prison after 83 days, the lawsuit says.
Jackson sued for false arrest, false imprisonment, negligence and violation of the Maryland Constitution, according to the complaint.
Carl N. Zacarias, assistant attorney general and the defendant’s attorney, declined to comment on the verdict.
James Jackson III v. State of Maryland
Court: Charles County Circuit
Case No.: 08-C-16-001143
Proceeding: Verdict for $3 million
Incident: Feb. 17, 2013
Suit filed: April 29, 2016
Settlement: Sept. 20, 2017
Plaintiff’s Attorney: Adam D. Perrelli of DeCaro, Doran, Siciliano, Gallagher & DeBlasis, LLP in Bowie
Defendant’s Attorney: Carl N. Zacarias, Assistant Attorney General
Count: False arrest, false imprisonment, negligence and violation of the Maryland Constitution