The ACLU of Colorado announced today a tentative agreement to resolve a lawsuit its attorneys filed against Denver police officer Timothy Scudder earlier this year. The agreement, which must still be approved by the Denver City Council, calls for additional training, changes in the police department’s Operations Manual, and compensation for the ACLU’s client, Valerie Rodriguez.
“We are very pleased that the Denver Police Department was willing to make changes in policy and training in order to resolve this lawsuit,” said Elisa Moran, who litigated the case as an ACLU Cooperating Attorney. “ The changes will reduce the risk of similar incidents occurring in the future.”
The lawsuit alleged that Officer Scudder engaged in “recklessly sloppy” police work that caused Ms. Rodriguez—who had no criminal record—to be falsely arrested and jailed for an incident with which she had no connection whatsoever.
Ms. Rodriguez was jailed on the basis of a bogus warrant that Scudder obtained nine months earlier, shortly after he took a report of a minor assault at a gas station in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood. A young woman told Scudder that she had been struck by an acquaintance who lived in the neighborhood and that the assailant’s name was Valerie Rodriguez.
According to the lawsuit, Officer Scudder searched a noncriminal database for the name “Valerie Rodriguez” and found information pertaining to the ACLU’s client, who did not know the victim and had never lived anywhere near Five Points. Without performing any additional investigation that would have immediately made clear that he had the wrong person, Scudder then wrote up a criminal complaint and warrant application with the name, date of birth, social security number, and driver’s license number of the ACLU’s client.
“Our client was handcuffed, locked in a scary jail cell, and lost a job opportunity simply because she has the same name as the person suspected of the assault,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director. “The Denver Police Department has now agreed to change its operations manual to make it crystal clear that finding a name in a computer database that is the same as the suspect’s name does not, by itself, provide grounds to obtain a warrant for the person whose information appears in the database. Police officials deserve credit for recognizing a problem and being willing to make changes to address it.”
If the Denver City Council approves the settlement, the City will also make a payment to compensate Ms. Rodriguez and cover her attorney’s fees.