CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — An Iowa county agreed Wednesday to pay $285,000 to an Arizona man who was arrested, transported across the country and jailed for 68 days for a crime that he didn’t commit.
The payment will resolve a federal lawsuit that 23-year-old Joseph McBride filed in early January against Linn County and its longtime top prosecutor, County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden.
John Harris, chairman of the county board, confirmed the unusually quick settlement Wednesday to The Associated Press, moments after it was signed. He said the county is self-insured and the payout will come from its insurance fund.
“A person doesn’t like to think that mistakes can be made, but everybody’s human,” he said. “We just have to acknowledge our mistakes, in most cases right them and move on.”
The settlement doesn’t include a formal admission of liability or an apology to McBride, who is black. But his attorney, Tom Frerichs, praised assistant county attorney Bob Hruska, who negotiated the settlement, for “his prompt and thoughtful attention to this case.”
“He did the right thing for the people in Linn County to bring this case to a quick resolution,” Frerichs said.
McBride was wrongly accused of participating in a Jan. 1, 2017, home invasion in Cedar Rapids in which a 27-year-old man was beaten with a handgun and robbed. McBride had grown up in Cedar Rapids but moved to Phoenix in November 2015, and had evidence showing he was 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometres) away from the scene when the crime occurred.
Vander Sanden signed a complaint charging McBride and two others with first-degree robbery, which carries up to 25 years in prison. Investigators from the Cedar Rapids Police Department never interviewed McBride. But he was implicated after the victim said he did his own investigation on Facebook and told detectives he was “90 per cent sure” an account linked to McBride belonged to one of the assailants.
Authorities arrested McBride last August at his home in Phoenix, where he was ordered jailed on a $50,000 cash-only bond. He was taken to Iowa on a private prison van that made stops at jails in Nevada, Colorado and Missouri and cost Linn County taxpayers $2,500. Even before he arrived in Cedar Rapids on Sept. 19, he insisted he was innocent and had cellphone photos proving he was in Glendale, Arizona, hours before the robbery.
McBride’s attorney filed notice of the alibi defence Oct. 9, providing names of witnesses. One attested that he celebrated New Year’s Eve with McBride in Phoenix and spent the next day with him rearranging a storage unit. Prosecutors dropped the case and had McBride released from jail on Oct. 31, a day after one of the robbery participants identified another man as the third suspect as part of a co-operation agreement. That suspect, a convicted felon with a violent past, hasn’t been charged.
McBride’s lawsuit alleged that the criminal complaint falsely contended police had “phone records and social media” evidence showing he conspired with the other two suspects. In reality, McBride’s only connection was that he was a Facebook friend with one of them.
The lawsuit had sought unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for McBride, who works at an Arizona dog treats factory.
The settlement marks the second $285,000 payment an Iowa county has recently made to one of Frerichs’ clients over claims that they were the victims of a shoddy investigation. Last year, neighbouring Johnson County paid that sum to settle a lawsuit filed by an attorney who spent 16 days in jail for a crime he didn’t commit.