St. Louis County woman sues over mistaken arrest on city warrant issued for dead woman

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ST. LOUIS — A St. Louis County woman who was mistakenly arrested and jailed by city police in 2009 has filed a federal civil lawsuit against police and jail officials.

Shannon Renee McNeal, 42, was arrested on a warrant intended for Shannon Raquel McNeal, who was 19 years younger and had died months earlier. Authorities knew the latter McNeal was dead but issued the arrest warrant pending receipt of a death certificate. A deputy clerk selected the wrong Shannon McNeal on a computer menu in 2007 when setting up the criminal file, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (bit.ly/UOdRLh).

A 2013 Post-Dispatch investigation found about 100 people who had been mistakenly arrested in recent years and collectively spent at least 2,000 days in jail. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce and Mayor Francis Slay's office have said those mistakes are only a tiny fraction of arrests and involved mostly older cases.

The suit filed Monday says multiple police and jail employees knew that Shannon Renee McNeal had been arrested by mistake but did nothing to free her. McNeal spent three days in jail and was burned by pesticides sprayed on her during processing, the suit says, and now suffers from high blood pressure because of the stress of the mistaken arrest and jail time.

McNeal was arrested by Ferguson police, and fingerprint results there and in St. Louis should have shown that she was not the person being sought by police. Yet, McNeal was strip-searched and jailed, lost her job as a Metro bus driver and also lost her apartment and her car.

The city and the St. Louis Circuit Clerk also are named as defendants. The complaint seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

"Ms. McNeal suffered greatly, being arrested in front of her children and hauled off to jail," said her lawyer, Jim Hacking, calling the case "another example of shoddy ID procedures (by St. Louis police) and the clerk's office."

"There are those who will say that the problem has been fixed, but we've seen little evidence of that," he said, adding that "no substantial changes have occurred since we've started investigating and filing lawsuits over this type of conduct."

A spokeswoman for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay declined to comment on pending litigation. A police spokeswoman referred a reporter to lawyers for the city.

Earlier this year, police and City Hall settled a federal lawsuit filed by Travis S. Jones, an unemployed man on disability who was mistakenly held for more than two months, even though officials knew within nine days they'd arrested Jones on someone else's warrant, but did not release him.

Hacking has another lawsuit pending in federal court, filed on behalf of Cedric Wright, who was arrested for stealing beer and a bag of chips but spent more than eight weeks in jail on charges for another man, Corey Leonard.


Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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