A lawyer for a man who claims he was wrongly put on the Oakland Police Department’s “Most Wanted” list for six months in 2012 called the incident “an egregious and scandalous error” today.
Attorney DeWitt Lacy said the top priority of Chau Van, 37, in filing a federal lawsuit against the city is to clear his name.
The civil rights lawsuit filed on March 5 alleges that Van’s reputation was “irreparably harmed.” It says he is “a law-abiding citizen with no history of violence.”
Lacy said Van, who lived in San Leandro when his name was on the list last year and now resides in Oakland, is a real estate consultant and freelance web designer.
The attorney said he believes restoring Van’s reputation would require a public acknowledgement of the alleged error as well as efforts to make sure Van’s name is removed from related federal and state most wanted lists.
A second purpose of the lawsuit, Lacy said, is to obtain financial compensation for Van for lost employment and emotional trauma.
“It put a great amount of fear on him and his family. He was wounded and he needs to be made whole,” Lacy said. The lawsuit does not specify an amount of compensation.
Alex Katz, a spokesman for City Attorney Barbara Parker, said he could not comment on the lawsuit.
“We just got it. We have to look at the allegations and determine the facts,” Katz said.
A police spokeswoman was not available for comment.
Van’s photo and name were placed on a list of the city’s four most wanted suspects by Police Chief Howard Jordan during a news conference about gang violence on Feb. 7, 2012. At the time, Jordan said Van was wanted for a shooting.
The lawsuit says Van learned about the listing when a friend called that night and told him that a television station was reporting that he was one of Oakland’s most wanted criminals.
A lawyer Van consulted, Stuart Hanlon, advised Van to stay in his house. After Hanlon investigated and learned that there was no police warrant for Van’s arrest, Van went to the Police Department on Feb. 13, 2012, with the intent of clearing up the error.
Instead, Van was arrested and searched and kept in custody for 72 hours before he was released, the lawsuit says.
On Feb. 14, according to a Police Department press release, Jordan announced that one of Oakland’s most wanted criminals had surrendered because of media pressure and was now off the streets. In the release, Jordan said Van was wanted for an assault with a deadly weapon, rather than a shooting, on Dec. 9, 2011.
Lacy said the alleged assault was carried out with a baseball bat but said that Van had nothing to do with it and was never charged.
The lawsuit says that despite Van’s efforts to have his name removed from the list, police did not delete it until Lacy and attorney John Burris sent the department a demand letter six months later.
The lawsuit maintains, “Mr. Van lives in a state of embarrassment, depression and shame because of the erroneous list and overt and prolonged refusal to remove him” from the list.
Lacy said Van was arrested for driving under the influence in 2007, but said he did not have any details about that case.
The defendants in the lawsuit are the city of Oakland, Jordan and two officers or employees of the department.
The claims in the suit include violation of the constitutional right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures, defamation, false arrest and imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence.
The case was assigned to U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero in San Francisco and is scheduled for a status conference in Spero’s courtroom on June 7.
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