MARTINSBURG – A case of mistaken identity has resulted in an eastern Panhandle municipality, and five of its police officers being named in a civil rights suit.
Indony and Drix Jean Baptiste filed suit against the city of Charles Town, and five unidentified police officers on Aug. 31 in U.S. District Court. In their complaint, the Baptistes, who are brothers and originally from Haiti, allege they were falsely arrested and detained in March after a witness to a crime mistook them for the culprit.
According to their suit, Drix accompanied Indony from Ranson to the Jefferson County courthouse in Charles Town on March 31where Indony had an appointment to meet his fiancee to apply for a marriage license. After Indony and his fiancee completed the marriage certificate, he and Drix went across the street to the Post Office.
While there, they observed three CPD officers arresting a black man. After finishing at the Post Office, they then went to the library where Indony was again to meet his fiancee after she returned from the Division of Motor Vehicles.
Drix went to the rear of the library to read books while Indony checked e-mails on the computer.
According to the suit, Indony heard his brother cry for help about 11:20 a.m. Standing around the table where Drix was sitting were three CPD officers with his passport asking him questions.
At that point, Indony intervened informing the officers Drix could understand, but not speak English. Though both cooperated with all their requests, including providing identification, Drix and Indony were placed under arrest and taken to the CPD station in separate cruisers.
According to the suit, Drix was placed in a holding cell while Indony was chained to a chair and questioned by two CPD detectives. After answering some initial questions, Indony refused to answer any more until both he and Drix were informed why they were arrested.
One of the detectives said they were not under arrest. Instead, he informed Indony they were brought to the station because the black man they saw arrested earlier that day was arrested for refusing to answer questions, and the manager of the Bank of Charles Town saw them in the vicinity and "'thought you two were the guy.'"
Before they could be released, the detective told Drix and Indony they would have to be photographed and fingerprinted. After being detained for two hours, Drix and Indony were released and taken to their car which was towed to the police parking lot after it was searched.
In their suit, the Baptistes say they suffered "humiliation, embarrassment and emotional distress" for being mistakenly arrested. They make claims against the city for not only false arrest, but also denial of due process.
The Baptistes seek unspecified damages, attorney fees and court costs. They are represented by Martinsburg attorney Harry P. Waddell.
The case is assigned to Judge John Preston Bailey.
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia case number 11-cv-73