An intellectually disabled man who spent five days in the Richmond jail last year after he was mistaken for a wanted man is suing a city police officer for malicious prosecution in federal court.
Eric C. Coleman, 20, of Henrico County, was arrested at his job at the Capitol Cafe in the state Capitol Building in January 2020, by Capitol Police and two officers with the Richmond Police Department, according to a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Richmond.
”These police officers told Mr. Coleman about a warrant out for his arrest but did not elaborate regarding the basis for the arrest warrant,” the lawsuit alleges. “Mr. Coleman was handcuffed and escorted through the building with his coworkers and others watching. He was placed in the back of a police car and taken to the Richmond City Jail.”
Asked for a response, a spokesman for the Richmond Police Department said the department does not comment on pending litigation. However, he said the defendant named in the suit, identified only as “Officer J. Leone,” is Joseph Leone.
The suit, filed by lawyer Drew Sarrett, says Coleman had been employed by a catering business, Meriwether Godsey at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, since 2017. He obtained the job through his assistance program at the Henrico Area Mental Health and Developmental Services.
Coleman had been at work at the Capitol Cafe for several hours on Jan. 9, 2020, when police took him into custody, telling him without elaboration that there was a warrant for his arrest.
There were four warrants charging him, among other things, with attempted assault and driving a vehicle involved in an accident but leaving the scene of the accident.
“He was stripped searched , forced to squat and cough completely naked, and placed in a cell with two other men,” according to the complaint. “Throughout his processing, Mr. Coleman showed physical signs of anxiety and duress, and he was subsequently seen by a nurse on the medical floor.” Mr. Coleman had high blood pressure and asked the nurse to call his mother.”
The suit further alleges that “Mr. Coleman pleaded to the officers several times to call his mother and explained that they had the wrong person, and he was innocent.”
Coleman was in jail from Jan. 9 to Jan. 13, 2020 and released after Richmond General District Court and Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court recognized that he was not the suspect named on the warrants. The charges against him were also dismissed.
According to the suit, the warrants were obtained on Feb. 14, 2018 by “Officer Leone” after a man said his brother — who apparently has the same name as Coleman but a different middle initial — attempted to assaulted him. That Eric Coleman had “multiple criminal and traffic convictions.”
Eric Coleman, the man who filed the lawsuit, does not have a brother or a driver’s license, says the suit.
The police could readily tell with an online search or through law enforcement databases that the Eric Coleman they arrested was not the same man sought by the warrants, according to the suit.
”Officer Leone falsely identified Mr. Coleman to a Richmond City Magistrate ... a simple investigation by Officer Leone, prior to obtaining the warrants, would have revealed that Mr. Coleman was not the accused he was searching for,” contends the suit.
The suit alleges that Coleman suffered financial, emotional and physical harm as a result of his arrest and jailing and seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.