GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Benjamin Lopez, a man from Grand Rapids was forced to spend 24 days in jail in what he is calling a case of mistaken identity. According to Lopez, Northern Michigan narcs were able to get an arrest warrant in his name instead of a similarly named suspect.
MLive reports that Lopez informed police of their error but just like so many other cases of mistaken identity, officers neglected their duty to due diligence and pounced on Lopez’ presumed guilt like a rabid dog on a bone. Officers had their heads so far up their asses the mere thought of Lopez being the wrong man was over their heads. Lopez told police he was not involved in their drug investigation. He told them he had never been to Traverse City, the place he is alleged to have committed the crime said his attorney Joshua Blanchard.
“He was saying, ‘You got the wrong guy.'”
His claims fell on deaf ears. Did officers check his birthday? No they didn’t. Had they checked they would have seen that the pair had different birthdays, socials, and names. Regardless of that glaring discrepancy Lopez was ordered held on $100,000 bond before being released. While in lock up Lopez was fired leaving him unemployed and unhirable.
“It was a horrible situation for my client to go through,” said Blanchard. “Being locked up for something you didn’t do, I think, is a special kind of harm.” It’s traumatic to say the least.
According to 9 & 10 News the narcotic officer falsely swore on a criminal complaint that he saw Benjamin Lopez sell drugs in June of last year in order to obtain an arrest warrant. That narcotic officer, Deputy Regan Foerster, utilized a confidential informant on June 22 when the CI gave $240 to man named Benny Lopez for heroin. The deputy was present for the exchange but could not make out the physical features of the suspect due to low lighting.
The deputy ended up following the other Lopez to the parking lot of Traverse Area District Library, where the suspect approached two people in a black Cadillac Escalade. The deputy watched Benny Lopez leave. Benny than called the informant before meeting him in the Family Video parking lot to give him one gram of heroin.
Blanchard told the Grand Rapids Press that his client, Benjamin Lopez, had no contact or involvement with any of the parties.
On Sept. 22 Sgt. Randy Graham reviewed Foerster’s case and prompted him to seek out a warrant for Lopez’ arrest. The deputy obtained the warrant from Grand Traverse County prosecutors. But that warrant was issued based on fraudulent information and intentional deception. The lawsuit claims that a positive ID of Benjamin Lopez was impossible due to poor lighting conditions expressed by the deputy.
Grand Rapids police, acting on the warrant, arrested Benjamin Lopez on Oct. 15. He was held in the Kent County Correctional Facility until police in Northern Michigan picked him up.
The whole time, Lopez stuck to his story and continued to profess his innocence. It wasn’t until a state Department of Corrections worker by the name of Jo Meyers met with Lopez did the thought that he was innocent began to trickle down. Meyers believed in the possibility that the Lopez in the Grand Traverse County Jail was innocent and expressed the belief that Lopez was misidentified by cops in the criminal case.
Meyers told Foerster, the narcotic officer, that there was a man named Benny Lopez living in the Grand Traverse County area and was out on parole.
Foerster brought that information to the prosecutor admitting the mistaken identity and confessing to not being able to really see the drug suspect’s characteristics during the exchange to make a positive ID. In light of that information, the prosecution was forced to drop the charges against Lopez.
According to the attorney, Foerster “took no steps to correct the false statement he made in order to obtain an arrest warrant” for his client.
On Nov. 6, assistant prosecutor Christopher Forsyth moved to have the case dismissed and Lopez was released the following day.
“Defendant Foerster intentionally and maliciously instituted criminal charges for Plaintiff without probable cause, by requesting a warrant without probable cause which contained false information and omitted relevant and material information,” Blanchard wrote in the lawsuit.
Court documents say Lopez is suing saying his Fourth Amendment rights were violated by the drug team officer during his arrest and that the sheriff’s office and narcotics team are responsible because they trained and supervised the narcotics officer.
Kalkaska County Sheriff Pat Whiteford refused to comment on the lawsuit. Whiteford stated that he had not been served with the suit and would like to review the document before commenting. One of Whiteford’s deputies, assigned to TNT (Traverse Narcotics Team) and a state police sergeant have been named in the lawsuit as defendants.
In spite of all that, Benny Lopez is still free and has not been charged in connection to the case as the original suspect.
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