Lawyers for the ACLU of Colorado filed suit today on behalf of Mercedes Archuleta, a Thornton mother of nine children with no criminal record whom Lakewood police wrongly and groundlessly listed in a warrant as a suspect in a misdemeanor harassment case.

According to the complaint, a state trooper found the erroneous warrant when he stopped Ms. Archuleta’s husband for a minor traffic violation. The officer pulled Ms. Archuleta rudely from her car while she was nursing her baby, handcuffed her without providing her any opportunity to tie up her blouse, and took her to the Jefferson County Jail. The complaint further alleges that the Sheriff’s employee in charge of booking consulted the law enforcement computer, realized that Ms. Archuleta was not the suspect police intended to arrest, but nevertheless subjected her to a humiliating strip search and locked her in a cell to wait for her husband to bail her out.

“Our client has described these events as the worst day of her life,” said Timothy Macdonald, of Arnold and Porter, who is handling the case as an ACLU cooperating attorney. “Lakewood officials acknowledge that she had nothing whatsoever to do with the misdemeanor under investigation and that the police detective should never have asked for a warrant with our client’s name and identifying information. The groundless warrant lingered in police computers for months, until a minor traffic stop prompted the state patrol officer to run a check on Mercedes and her husband. The arresting officer treated our client shamefully. Even worse, the Jefferson County jailer knew that the warrant named the wrong person, but nevertheless subjected our client to a degrading and unconstitutional strip search and then locked her in a cell.”

According to the complaint, Lakewood detective Michelle Wagner reviewed police reports written by patrol officers about an incident that violated Lakewood’s ordinance against harassment. The victim stated that the perpetrator’s name was “Mercedes Archuleta,” but she provided almost no additional information. A woman who matched the suspect’s general description is listed in the state’s criminal database as sometimes using that name. Instead of pursuing that lead, however, the detective instead located the ACLU’s client in a database of motor vehicle records.

“The detective did not have probable cause to believe that our client was the suspect,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director. “Had the detective contacted our client, the matter could have been cleared up quickly. Instead, the officer obtained a warrant for our client’s arrest. Such reckless police practices pose a risk to everyone in our community, particularly those with a somewhat common name.”

Defendants in the lawsuit are Detective Wagner; Shayne Butler, the state trooper who made the arrest; and D.L. Mandelko, the Jefferson County jailer who booked Mrs. Archuleta and ordered the strip search. The complaint also names Jefferson County Sheriff Ted Mink and challenges the constitutionality of the jail’s strip search policy.

more on this case