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Palm Coast Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017 2 years ago

Man falsely arrested in mistaken identity case sues Sheriff's Office

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Dakota Ward was arrested when a deputy confused his identity with that of another man, De'coda Ward, who was wanted for failure to appear on a battery charge.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

A young man falsely arrested by Flagler County Sheriff’s Office deputies last year because of a name mix up has sued the Sheriff’s Office.

Dakota Ward was 19 when three Sheriff’s Office deputies arrived at his home in Bunnell March 26 to arrest him for failing to appear in court over a battery charge.

But deputies were pursuing the wrong man: The man who’d been involved in the battery incident and hadn’t appeared in court was named De’Coda Ward, not Dakota Ward. The two young men had been mixed up with each other even as children, with Dakota receiving De’Coda’s disciplinary reports. But March 26, Dakota was booked at the county jail in De’Coda’s place.

Dakota Ward filed his suit against the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office Dec. 16. The legal complaint states that he was arrested despite his “insistence that he was the wrong ‘Dakota Ward.’” Ward’s attorney, Joshua Davis, previously told the Palm Coast Observer that Ward would be suing for the maximum amount allowable under the law: $200,000.

The mixup that led to Dakota Ward’s arrest began when a deputy taking case notes on a Dec. 15, 2015 battery incident wrote the suspect’s name as Dakota, even though witnesses had written the suspect’s name as De’Coda and the two men looked different and had different addresses. The deputy didn’t go to meet the suspect at the location witnesses said he lived. Instead, he plugged the name “Dakota Ward” into a driver’s license database and recorded Dakota’s identifying information as the suspect’s. The deputy, James Gore, was suspended three days without pay after the Sheriff’s Office investigated the error.

The legal complaint states that Ward’s arrest took place without probable cause.

“An officer is held to a reasonable person standard when determining whether probable cause exists,” the complaint states. “Flagler County Sheriff’s Office deputies’ arrest of plaintiff was not reasonable. Flagler County Sheriff’s Office deputies failed to confirm the identity of the plaintiff by ignoring the physical description, correct spelling of the suspect’s name, and the address listed for the suspect contained within the original complaint.”

Ward’s arrest took place under the administration of former sheriff Jim Manfre. His successor, Rick Staly, will head the agency as it handles Ward’s lawsuit. 

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