A seemingly routine phone call to clear up a case of mistaken identity unexpectedly led to
the wrongful arrest and allegedly malicious prosecution of a Berks County man, according to a civil rights suit filed at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Joseph Curry, of Boyertown, Pa., claims that a simple investigation would have cleared him of accusations that he stole items from a Walmart located in Lower Macungie, Pa. Instead, state police arrested him and had him detained in prison for three months, causing him to lose his job and miss the birth of his only child, according to the complaint.
According to the suit, in the fall of 2012 Curry discovered a warrant had been issued for his arrest from a newspaper article about a theft from the Walmart. According to police, Curry allegedly found receipts in the parking lot, matched the UPC codes with items in the store and gave them to a partner to return for cash.
The complaint says that Curry was not the man described by police as a short-haired, heavyset man. Not only does Curry have long hair, a thin build and tattooed sleeves on his arms, but he claims he has never been to the Lower Macungie Walmart.
Curry called the store and asked the security personnel to review the surveillance footage and clear him of the accusations, but they allegedly refused. State troopers also refused to look at the tape, the complaint says, and told him that he was going to jail. The plaintiff was arrested on Oct. 29, 2012, and charged with theft by deception and conspiracy.
An Exeter Township, Pa., detective also charged Curry with similar offenses, accusing him of being part of a larger theft ring, according to the court documents. Unable to afford bail, Curry spent two months in prison before meeting with the Exeter detective. Before his criminal hearing, the detective allegedly apologized and admitted to Curry that he was innocent and that he would help him out.
The charges from Exeter were finally dismissed in February 2013, but the case brought by the state police still stood and would not be addressed until September 2013. According to the complaint, Curry had already spent three months in jail, lost his job and missed the birth of his child. Fearing a longer stay in lock-up, the plaintiff pleaded no contest to the charges, even though he contends he is completely innocent.
Curry accuses the Pennsylvania State Police and the Exeter Township police department of false arrest, imprisonment, malicious prosecution and Monell, saying the actions of the trooper are a reflection of the office's deliberate indifference to the plaintiff's Constitutional rights.
He also accuses Walmart of negligence for failing to properly review all evidence before making a false accusation. The incident caused Curry to suffer humiliation, mental anguish and the loss of income. Curry seeks compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $75,000.
The plaintiff is represented by Matthew Weisberg of Weisberg Law.
The federal case ID number is 5:14-cv-05253-LS.