“You are innocent until proven guilty,” they said. “Don’t break the law and you have nothing to worry about,” they said. But those things obviously did not apply for an innocent Virginia woman who was arrested March 01, 2017 for allegedly selling cocaine to a police informant.
Donna M. Small, 49, was not the person shown in the police video that recorded their informant buying drugs, but she spent about 3 months in jail anyway, reported The Virginia Pilot.
Norfolk police finally realized, after 114 days, they arrested someone who was not even at the crime scene, and was not on the video, before dropping all charges against Small.
Small is now suing the city for her wrongful arrest. The lawsuit, which names the city and 3 officers as defendants, seeks $500,000 in damages, plus interest and legal fees.
Small’s attorney, Kevin Martingayle, said “The law doesn’t specify a certain number of days constitutes a constitutional violation. But being locked up for more than three months in a case of mistaken identity is clearly too long.”
The city is unwilling to admit the clear mistake and is defending their right to imprison innocent people, even when clear evidence exists to prove the victim innocent.
The Pilot reported that court documents show the city is claiming qualified immunity – arguing the officers named in the suit did not violate “any clearly established law.”
Deputy City Attorney Michael Beverly said Small was arrested subject to a “lawful indictment” handed down by a Norfolk grand jury.
A spokesman for the Police Department declined to comment on the allegations in the lawsuit.
Small was released on June 22, 2017 after prosecutors gave her attorney an image of the video which clearly showed she was not the person selling the cocaine.
“It was obvious,” attorney Asha Pandya said in an interview, adding that her client appears about 50 pounds heavier than the woman in the footage.
Pandya said she didn’t catch the issue sooner because prosecutors initially only provided her a blurry black-and-white photo of the alleged dealer.
At an April 10 bond hearing, the judge gave Small a $5,000 secured bond, but she was unable to come up with the necessary $500 and had to remain in jail.
Pandya was not provided with a clearer color image until the morning of the scheduled trial. She immediately pointed out that it was not her client.
According to Pandya, she then showed the color photo to her client. She said Small identified the woman for investigators and that Entas immediately moved for her to be released on an unsecured bond.
Martingayle said police and prosecutors failed to take his client’s claims of innocence seriously, even though their video proved she was not the person they should have arrested.
“All they had to do was literally look in their own file,” he said. “Is that too much to ask?”