Nov. 16, 2022 – A man who was jailed for four-and-a-half days after being mistaken for his brother failed to demonstrate that corrections officials violated his due process rights, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has ruled.
In Martinez v. Santiago, No. 21-2024 (Oct. 17, 2021), the Seventh Circuit held that the officials had not acted with deliberate indifference to the man’s claims that he had been jailed by mistake.
Hides Behind Brother’s Identity
In 2015, police arrested Hector M. Rodriguez in Milwaukee County. Rodriguez gave the police the name and date of birth of his brother, Eli M. Martinez.
Rodriguez was convicted on battery and disorderly conduct charges and the Milwaukee County Circuit Court sentenced him to probation.
The court knew Rodriguez’s true identity by the time it sentenced him but the judgment of conviction listed “Ely M. Martinez” as an alias for Rodriguez. The judgment also listed Martinez’s birth date instead of Rodriguez’s birth date.
The circuit court issued an arrest warrant for Rodriguez after he failed to report for probation. The warrant contained the same information as the judgment of conviction.
Old Warrant Surfaces
Several years later, the police booked Martinez into Milwaukee County Jail for an offense unrelated to Rodriguez’s 2015 convictions, under the name Ely Martinez.
The Milwaukee County District Attorney decided not to press charges against Martinez. However, when officials performed a warrant check, they discovered the arrest warrant issued for Rodriguez in 2015.
The county officials asked the state Department of Corrections (DOC) to confirm the warrant.
That request, which was made late on a Thursday night, went to Minerva Santiago, who had been assigned as Rodriguez’s probation officer, and Oscar Garay, who was Santiago’s supervisor. Santiago and Garay received the request on Friday morning.
Prior Mix-up Involving Name
Santiago was worried the country jail had the wrong person because several years earlier the police had arrested a Hector Rodriguez, Jr. by mistake.
That Rodriguez was unrelated to Hector M. Rodriguez or Ely Martinez, but had the same birth date as Martinez – a date that DOC officials thought was Rodriguez’s birthdate.
When Santiago contacted Hector Rodriguez, Jr., he told her that he hadn’t been mistakenly arrested. Consequently, Santiago and Garay concluded that Hector M. Rodriguez had been properly arrested.
Santiago and Garay then authorized the issuance of an order to detain Hector M. Rodriguez, whom they said had been booked under the name Ely Martinez.
Girlfriend to the Rescue
Later on Friday, Martinez’s girlfriend told Santiago and Garay the county had the wrong person. She gave Garay Martinez’s Social Security card and told him that Martinez and Rodriguez were brothers.
The girlfriend also gave Garay the contact information for Martinez’s parole officer in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania parole officer confirmed that Rodriguez and Martinez were different people, and told Garay that Martinez was in prison when Rodriguez was arrested in 2015.
Santiago contacted the Pennsylvania Records Office and asked for a photograph and FBI number for both Rodriguez and Martinez.
Santiago also contacted the DOC liaison at the Milwaukee County Jail on Friday morning and requested a copy of Rodriguez’s booking photo and fingerprints for the 2015 arrest.
The liaison emailed Santiago a copy of the booking photo from Martinez’s recent arrest. But the photo was blurry, and the liaison told Santiago that she would have to wait to receive an original copy of the photo in the mail.
On Monday, Santiago contacted the Pennsylvania Records Office again.
The office sent Santiago photos of Rodriguez and Martinez, as well as FBI and Social Security numbers for each. Using that information, Santiago concluded that Martinez had indeed been in prison in Pennsylvania from 2013 and 2016, and therefore couldn’t be the man arrested in Milwaukee County in 2015.
However, under the rules of the facility where Martinez had been transferred to, it was too late to request a same-day release. On Tuesday morning, Santiago and Garay met with Martinez and after they confirmed that his appearance and his tattoos matched those depicted in the Pennsylvania records, Martinez was released.
Federal Lawsuit Follows
Martinez sued Santiago and Garay in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin under 42 U.S.C. section 1983.
Martinez claimed the two violated his due process rights by authorizing his continued detention after they knew or should have known that he wasn’t the person identified in the 2015 arrest warrant.
The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants, and ruled that Martinez failed show the defendants had either failed to investigate or ignored evidence of his innocence.
‘Deliberate Indifference’ Standard
Writing for a three-judge panel, Judge Jackson-Akiwumi explained that federal courts employ a “deliberate indifference” standard to determine whether an official has violated a detainee’s due process rights.
To meet that standard, Jackson-Akiwumi explained, Martinez must show that the defendants had acted with a mental state equal to criminal recklessness.
Martinez failed to make that showing, Judge Jackson-Akiwumi wrote, because “the undisputed facts show that Santiago and Garay seriously considered his claim of wrongful identification and took steps to investigate it.”
Jackson-Akiwumi acknowledged that a reasonable jury could conclude that on the Friday afternoon in question, Santiago and Garay had enough information to know that person in custody was Ely Martinez and not Hector Rodriguez.
‘Only half the equation’
But the identity of the man in custody, Judge Jackson-Akiwumi wrote, “was only half the equation.” The defendants still needed to confirm which brother the 2015 warrant applied to, Jackson-Akiwumi pointed out.
“For all the defendants knew, Martinez was the one who had absconded from probation, and the warrant said Rodriguez only because Martinez gave a false name,” Judge Jackson-Akiwumi wrote.
As a result, Jackson-Akiwumi reasoned, it was only on Monday, after receiving photos from the Pennsylvania Records Office, that Santiago and Garay were able to rule out Martinez as the subject of the 2015 warrant.
“Read as a whole, and taken in context of the surrounding events, no reasonable jury could think that Santiago was certain that Martinez was the innocent brother who had been arrested,” Judge Jackson-Akiwumi wrote.