Most burglars wouldn't bother cutting the lawn. But on an April day in 2014, that's exactly what raised the suspicions of a woman in one Miami neighborhood. When she saw a strange man cutting the grass outside a home on SW Fourth Street, she called the homeowner to let him know.
A crime scene technician from the Miami Police Department soon showed up to dust the home for fingerprints, which an examiner later used to identify a suspect. Almost one year after the break-in, 25-year-old Alden Chase was arrested on charges of burglary and grand theft.
But it turns out Chase had a good reason to be at the house that day: He was working for a maintenance company hired by the bank, which had filed to foreclose the home. What's more astonishing, his lawyer says, is that Chase had posted a notice directly on the front window indicating he'd been there that day to mow the lawn, change the locks, and secure the residence.
Apprised of the mistake, the State Attorney's Office dropped the case. Earlier this month, Chase filed suit against the City of Miami for false arrest.
"It's unique because of the obviousness of the situation," says his attorney, Michael Garcia Petit. "They were aware there was litigation between the homeowner and the bank... If you or I as laypeople, not trained law enforcement, came up and observed this, we'd realize we'd probably want to call the maintenance company and the bank to ascertain whether they'd been on the property."
The City of Miami attorney's office did not respond to an email from New Times seeking comment on the case; in most instances, the office declines to comment on pending litigation.
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Although the charges were dropped about five weeks after Chase's arrest, court records indicate he spent four days in jail before he was able to bond out. His mug shot remains on the internet. As a result of the arrest, Garcia Petit says Chase lost his job and has been hard-pressed to find work.
"The problem he now encounters with each and every job is it shows that he has been arrested for burglary and grand theft, which is not a real good thing to have on your record," the attorney says.
Though he's waiting for more documentation, Garcia Petit says he still isn't sure how Miami Police could have arrested Chase nearly a year after the burglary without so much as interviewing him or calling the maintenance company's phone number from the notice posted outside the home.
"Throw common sense out, because common sense doesn't work here," he says. "What happens is they're on autopilot and they don't investigate... They arrested him, and I've still got no idea why."