DENVER (CBS4) – A Denver woman is suing Denver police for arresting her for a crime in which she had no involvement. Police have since dropped the charges, and have taken disciplinary actions against the officers who made the arrest, but not before the woman had to spend two nights in jail for a crime she didn’t commit.
Now, she hopes her lawsuit will prevent this from happening to others in the future.
“It’s just really scary to me that you can be in the hospital, thinking you’re getting help, and then get taken away to jail for two days, and you’re degraded and humiliated,” said Sarah Cook, the woman who police wrongfully arrested.
Cook was a patient at Denver Health in August 2019, after she believes she had been drugged and sexually assaulted at a party.
“I was having a drink and dancing, and then I don’t remember anything until I woke up in the hospital at Denver Health, and when I woke up I was really confused and my mind wasn’t clear,” Cook said.
Meanwhile, police were looking for another woman, who was suspected of burglarizing a downtown building. According to the lawsuit, police were told over dispatch the suspect went to St. Joseph’s Hospital, but instead police went to Denver Health — the wrong hospital — and arrested Cook, while she was still in her hospital bed.
“I suspect that there’s quite a few women who were transported from the downtown area at Denver Health at any particular point in time, it’s a large hospital and this is a huge metropolitan city in the United States,” explained Cook’s attorney, Sean Simeson. “For the officers to make an arrest, based on the identifying information that they used, which was extremely vague, was completely unconstitutional.”
It wasn’t until three days later when police checked surveillance footage and realized they arrested the wrong person, calling Cook to apologize and drop the charges.
“I think there was one representative from the police department that I talked to once, who said, ‘the officers do want to say that they’re sorry,’ is the one thing they did say once, but they didn’t really say what they’re sorry for, or like, what they’re going to do to change or anything like that,” Cook said.
She said those days before the charges were dropped were agonizing. As a registered nurse, she was worried about losing her job and her license to practice.
“I’ve never really been in trouble my whole life, but it’s very hard to clear your name once you have those things on your record, and even having that felony on my record for a couple days could have been really bad for me,” Cook said.
Denver police issued a written statement about the incident, saying,
The circumstances of this case are unique, and following a thorough investigation, the involved officers were found to have acted in violation of departmental policies aimed at preventing such a situation, and the officers were disciplined.
Denver police also provided internal affairs documents showing the two officers involved in the case were given 10 days suspension, which was served in late January 2020.
The documents said the officers were disciplined for failing “to have the victim positively identify the suspect in a burglary investigation, resulting in the arrest of the wrong person.”
In the lawsuit, attorneys for the City of Denver, and attorneys for each officer involved, have filed motions to ask the the judge to dismiss the case. The judge has not yet ruled on those motions.
Denver police says since 2013 there have been no other cases like Cook’s case. However, a 2016 lawsuit alleges officers tried to arrest the wrong person because of mistaken identity, and a 2008 lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union claimed six people were wrongfully arrested due to mistaken identity. A 2012 investigation by the Denver Post found Denver police made more than 500 mistaken-identity arrests in seven years.
Cook’s lawsuit claims her constitutional rights were violated and calls for compensation. She says she also hopes her lawsuit will trigger more action on behalf of the police department to ensure others aren’t wrongfully arrested, including more ethics training for officers.
“I do feel that I have a responsibility to stand up for myself and for others, because I don’t think it’s okay what happened,” Cook said. “It was the one time in my adult life that I’ve actually really needed an advocate, and needed help, and I wasn’t given it.”