CARSON CITY, Nev. >> A man arrested or detained nearly a dozen times because he was mistaken for a suspected drug dealer cannot sue Las Vegas police, the Nevada Supreme Court has ruled.
Justices in an order dated Thursday dismissed Francisco Gonzalez’s suit against the police department, saying the agency was immune from such lawsuits.
North Las Vegas police issued an arrest warrant for suspected drug dealer Francisco Garcia-Gonzalez in 2007 and entered his information into a law enforcement database.
Justices said the suspect’s physical description and birth date matched Gonzalez, though his attorneys disputed that. In court briefs, Gonzalez’s lawyers argued the wanted man was two years older, lived in a different city and had different hair color.
Between June 2008 and August 2010, Gonzalez was detained or arrested by Las Vegas police 11 times. At one point he even obtained an “identity passport,” a document alerting officers that further investigation is needed before detaining or arresting someone, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
But the arrests continued and Gonzalez sued the department for negligence and false imprisonment.
Clark County District Judge Timothy Williams dismissed the suit.
A three-judge panel on the high court was sympathetic but upheld the lower court’s action.
“Although we are sympathetic to Gonzalez’s plight, we conclude that the decision to detain or arrest a person closely matching a warrant’s description is the type of decision that discretionary immunity should protect,” justices said.
They added that officers often must decide between “releasing a potential criminal closely matching the description of a valid warrant or running the risk of potential civil liability on those close cases.”
North Las Vegas eventually changed information in the database and the detainments stopped.