Early one morning in May 2019, Sophia King received a seemingly random call from a police officer who claimed King was a witness to a crime in Liberty City, and that police had a few questions for her.
The 32-year-old Miami resident was confused — she hadn’t frequented Liberty City and frankly didn't know what the officer was talking about, she recalls. But the officer advised that she could face arrest or lose custody of her children if she didn't cooperate, so she agreed to meet him at the Miami Gardens Police Department with her toddler and grandmother in tow.
While on her way to the police station later that morning, about a half-dozen Miami-Dade Police Department (MDPD) officers, as well as child protective services, surrounded her car in a chaotic scene. With loaded guns allegedly in hand, police removed King from her vehicle, handcuffed her, and began transporting her to a local jail.
En route to booking, King says, officers suddenly stopped the transport to ask her some basic, ground-level questions to verify who she is: middle initial and birthday.
Upon hearing her answers, they promptly pulled over at a Citgo gas station off 27th Avenue and NW 169th Terrace and showered her with apologies, she says.
In a civil rights lawsuit filed against MDPD in federal court in mid-January (attached below), King claims she was the victim of an easily avoidable case of mistaken identity at the hands of Miami-Dade officers. She says her Fourth Amendment rights were violated when she was wrongfully arrested during the May 17, 2019 incident.
The lawsuit says King had "no involvement with any illegal activity, nor was she a witness to any alleged illegal conduct." She was allegedly mistaken for a woman with a similar name, who was suspected of hitting somebody on the head and stealing their keys three months prior.
"The reality is that this was a misidentification," King's attorney, David B. Andrew, tells New Times
. "My client had absolutely nothing to do with the subject of any pending investigation, and yet she was arrested."
MDPD has not responded to New Times
' request for comment via email.
Footage from officers' body cameras depicts King in a state of shock and bewilderment while speaking with Miami-Dade police officer Jean Pinero, according to the complaint.
"So, you don’t remember an incident that had to do with some keys and your car, or somebody’s car, and then somebody got hit over the head?” Pinero asks.
“What the hell?" King answers, according to the transcript. "I promise to God I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about."
Officer Pinero then interviewed King's grandmother and described the alleged crime to her, to which she responded "visibly dumbfounded," the lawsuit says.
“No...That’s not her," she told the officer.
The lawsuit claims that police, including a Miami-Dade sergeant, acknowledged the error, apologized, and released her back to her own vehicle. As captured on body-cam footage, King began violently shaking and had a panic attack towards the end of the ordeal, requiring treatment from fire rescue at the scene, the lawsuit alleges.
She includes counts for false imprisonment and assault and battery for being "seized, handcuffed, and placed into a patrol vehicle," actions carried out with the intent to cause "a harmful or offensive contact," she claims. She is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
King says the mistake could have been prevented if officers had verified basic information in their database before singling her out for arrest.
"It is reasonable to conclude that the correct information identifying the actual alleged assailant or witness was readily available prior to any law enforcement interaction with Ms. King, facts known arguably even at the time the 6:00 a.m. phone call was placed to Ms. King, whereby she was pressured to come to the station," the lawsuit alleges.
While it might seem like open-and-shut litigation given the alleged admission of the officers, a recent high-profile Florida case shows that police can avoid liability on civil rights claims over accidental arrests that lead to days-long detainment.
The arrestee, David Sosa, was detained for three days by the Martin County Sheriff's Office after deputies mistook him for a suspect of the same name, despite Sosa repeatedly advising them of their error. It was the second time in four years that the sheriff's office had confused him with the other man, according to Sosa.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of Sosa's civil rights
claims against the sheriff's office, finding that his detention was misguided but did not rise to the level of a constitutional violation, in part because a valid warrant (albeit against a different man) existed.