Sometimes cops nab the wrong person, even when the evidence is strong. What's important is that innocent people are never punished or held accountable for the actions of the guilty. And no, Ted Cruz is not the Zodiac Killer - probably.
I_am_js asked police officers of Reddit: What is your best "I think we have the wrong person" story?
Submissions have been edited for clarity, context, and profanity.
15. Double the fun.
I've got two, from twenty-five years ago when I was a cop, one on one side of the badge and one from the other.
The first, I got assigned a warrant service to pick up a wanted felon. Mr. Robertson was 6' tall, 250 pounds, long red hair, bushy red beard, and lived at, let's say, 123 Elm St. Pretty distinctive dude.
So I roll up to 123 Elm Street, and sure enough, there mowing his lawn in the front yard is the man himself, 6', 250, red hair, red beard. I make contact with him, "Hey, Mr. Robertson? You got warrants and it's time to go to jail."
Hook him up, take him to jail, and in central booking I get his property off him and while filling out the inventory happen to notice this guy is Mr. Robinson, not Robertson.
Sure enough, the wanted guy was my guy's landlord, and his twin-brother-from-another-mother doppelgänger. When I'd said Robertson, Robinson didn't even twig to the fact I hadn't said his name, he just heard the similar sounding name as his own. We had to walk the whole thing back and reactivate the warrant, then kicked him loose with a handshake and an apology.
The one from the other side, I had just gotten off duty at 2 AM and was driving home still in uniform. There wasn't any other traffic on the road, so I wasn't really surprised when a police car turned in behind me and started following me. I figured he was trolling for drunks and I was the only thing moving on the road, so he was just going to follow me a little to observe my driving, and he'd realize pretty quick I was sober and peel off.
Instead another patrol car joined him.
And another. And another.
Then all four lit me up, and spread out behind me, blocking the road in a full felony stop.
Well, this just got interesting.
They went through the whole procedure, and I carefully followed their instructions. When they finally got me out and saw my uniform, they just stopped for a few seconds while I was trying to figure out just what the hell was going on. Then three of the officers got in their cars, turned off their lights, and took off, while the original officer told me I could put my hands down and explained what was going on.
My car was a spot on match for the suspect vehicle in an armed robbery and shooting that had just occurred right up the road. I'd driven right by the scene before the cops even got there a few minutes before the officer in the next district spotted me and thought I was the suspect.
It was an interesting night.
14. Nine-year-olds rob candy stores, Marv.
There had been a string of robberies (7 in 2 weeks) in my neighborhood, so everyone was on high alert. I was home by myself, and one of my dogs started puking, so I rushed to let him outside, forgetting my dad had set the alarm. We had a silent alarm, so I had no clue it had been tripped, sending out a dispatch request to the local 5-0.
5 minutes later, there was a knock on the door. I'm young, home alone by myself, and had been told to never answer the door if I was alone. So I didn't. They kept knocking.
Long story short (they broke the door down), they thought they had caught the burglars. Multiple cars, I vaguely remember there being a K-9 unit involved, and the police had their suspect; a 9-year-old girl, crying her eyes out.
I was not the group of thieves, who ended up being caught about a week later.
I'd like to imagine them putting you in cuffs, high-fiving each other and telling you you'd be going to jail for a long time for your crimes.
I remember them being just as confused as I was. But, I did get to be 'put into custody', as it was looked down upon to leave a young child (under 12) by themselves, so they had to talk to my dad before they left. He had gone to work, and I was waiting for my mom to get home. So they both came home to cops in their house lol.
13. I didn't do that, I did *this*.
Two of my colleagues (murder squad detectives) attended custody to meet a defendant answering bail - when they arrived at the custody desk there were a couple of people hanging around, waiting for their solicitors - they told the custody Sargent they were there for (insert name) and he pointed one of the guys out. They went up and introduced themselves and said they they would be questioning him at another station, so all three got in the car and headed off.
Whilst driving, they told the defendant what would be happening - on arrival he would be arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, questioned and either bailed or remanded. The guy was like "you've got to be joking, attempt murder? I was shoplifting!" - he was relatively calm, half laughing and shaking his head. A short time later one of the officer got a call from the custody Sgt - their actual bail appointment had arrived. There were two defendants with the same name answering bail that day.
They apologized to the non-murderous shoplifter, turned the car around and headed back to bring the right person in for questioning. Keystone cops to the max.
Did that count as a confession that he had been shoplifting?
Not admissable as he wasn't under caution, but TBF he may have said "I was nicked (arrested) for shoplifting" or something. Can't remember specifics, had forgotten all about this until this post cropped up
12. When it comes to addiction, nobody wins.
Old neighbor accused me of stealing from his house and eating his food and stealing his dead wife's jewelry. He said I matched the build and clothing of the thief.
Police came to our house and they knew my dad and were skeptical to me being a criminal, I do pass the guys house when I walk home but I didn't even know someone lived there.
Neighbor was adamant when they showed my face to him and said his oldest grandson is going to stay with him so he could be safe.
Grandson arrives and police notice he looks like me, the build and clothing especially.
Yeah, turns out his grandson would come to sneak into his house and steal stuff to feed his drug habit.
11. Numbers don't lie.
In our family we had a great uncle who tattooed his name and Social Security Number to his shoulder. Apparently he had the same name and birthday as another guy with a prison record, and had kept hearing about it. It came in handy at least twice when he was pulled over and the cops started arresting him. Each time he got out because he had his social security as proof that he was innocent.
10. The naaaaame gaaaame.
There is another man two years younger than me who shares my first and last name, exact same spelling. the only difference is the middle name.
Police were investigating a county trustee who was giving people housing assistance checks they didn't qualify for; they would cash the assistance and give the trustee a percentage back. One of the civilians being investigated was the other guy. A plainclothes cop in an unmarked car shows up with a female holding a clipboard, identifies himself as a state trooper, and within five minutes is asking me for copies of my bank records. He's threatening to subpoena if i don't comply.
This isn't the first time i've been mistaken for him (I used to get his mail all the time) and I even asked if they were looking for me or the other guy, pointing out our different middle names. I got really suspicious really fast (a high pressure situation, demanding access to my financial records, threats of subpoenas and further legal action) so i started to doubt this was an actual police officer and was in fact just a scammer. The badge he showed me was just a plastic square like my drivers license, further muddying the issue.
I told him I wanted to speak with the police and called dispatch; two uniformed officers showed up fifteen minutes later and confirmed the guy was an officer. The woman with him was some kind of auditor and records keeper. After a further 15 minutes of questions the woman pulled the guy away and pointed out something on her phone.
Yep, they wanted the other guy.
9. Saved by the doppelgänger?
A Missouri man spent nearly 17 years behind bars for robbery until his doppelganger was discovered — and the other guy looked so much like him that authorities decided to toss out his conviction.
Jones, 41, had been serving a 19-year jail sentence for a 1999 robbery when he heard other inmates buzzing that another prisoner looked just liked him — and even shared his first name, Star said.
It's unclear what the other man was locked up for, and Jones never saw his doppelganger. But he told two legal interns assigned to his case about the rumors, according to Alice Craig, one of Jones' lawyers.
The interns brought the message back to their superiors at the Midwest Innocence Project and the Paul E. Wilson Defender Project, who dug further into the case.
It turned out that not only did the other man bear an uncanny resemblance to Jones, he also lived closer to the site of the crime.
Jones' doppelganger, Ricky Amos, used to live with his mother in Kansas City, Kansas, near the address of the incident, Craig said. Jones lived across the state line in Kansas City, Mo.
"When I saw that picture, it made sense to me," said Jones, who has denied committing the robbery, to the Star.
"Either you're going to think [we're] the same person, or you're going to be like, 'Man, these guys, they look so much alike.' "
His lawyers showed the two men's photos to the victim, two witnesses and the prosecutor in Jones' case — and all four admitted they could not tell the pair apart, according to the Star.
8. There are some systematic issues to address here.
I live in a neighborhood in Indy that is going through a major revitalization right now. So it's very much in a transitional phase. We rent a house from a good friend of ours. He bought the house from some garbage people who had lived there for a long time. These people did, sold, made drugs, there was violence, prostitution, everything. In general the house was disgusting, unlivable, really. Just the worst. Well the scumbags who lived here still try to use our address even after 5 years. About a year and a half ago one of the dudes used our address to renew his driver's license at the BMV.
He even had the audacity to leave a note for us to call him when the license came in. Fast forward a few months, around Christmas time, we are all sitting around, watching TV when we get a knock on the door. My husband answers it and it's a SWAT team with guns drawn. They see my husband, who does not look like a methed out crack head, and inside are our 2 little boys, my parents, and me nursing our baby plus the Christmas tree and all the lovely trappings of our home. They immediately put their guns down and my husband and I have a lovely chat with them. Yeah, they had our house surrounded, guns drawn, the whole shebang, looking for this dude who was wanted on some kind of violent felony. We were pissed at this dude who I refer to as Big Nasty.
I live in a small town in rural England, and we used to get some trainee's/ new police officers from the met there for their training.
Me and some of my friends were teenagers we were walking to the supermarket, because what else is there to do in a small town pre-internet? Suddenly from out of nowhere this police car comes screaming out of nowhere, sirens going and screeches to a halt in front of us.
A young guy, must have only been about five years or so older than us jumps out and starts giving us the whole hairdryer treatment. He lines us up and starts taking our statements of what we had been up to in the last hour/gloating at us "You lads are in trouble now, criminal damage, trespass, theft. You have really screwed up!" With him was the local bobby and he came up to each of us in turn after the younger guy had grilled us and said very jovially "Now don't worry lads, I'm sure it's a misunderstanding, we've had some reports of a break in. You don't match the preliminary description, and I'm sure we'll get this cleared up when we get the more detailed description come through."
So the more detailed description comes through the radio and the young guy is wearing the biggest sh*t-eating grin you've ever seen. The description didn't even remotely match, and honestly the young guy looked so disappointed we all ended up feeling sorry for him.
So yeah, that was probably quite embarrassing for him.
6. I didn't do it, my head is bleeding.
Since everyone else isn't a cop...
I was 16 and worked at a golf course mowing lawns and such. We got a call at home from the cops that said I'm a suspect in a hit and run accident because my plate #s were on the car that drove away without stopping. The cops said the car was maroon colored; my car was gray. We told them and figured that was that.
The next day at work there was a minor accident. A dumbass coworker pulled a metal rake too hard and the rack holding it came down onto my forehead. It wasn't a deep wound, but it bled A LOT. My boss took me to the ER to get my head super glued, and to be safe, took me home too. Thus my car stayed at the golf course.
That evening a cop comes by and finds me with a head wound and my car is missing. I look quite guilty. By sheer luck, the cop calls someone after talking to my parents and discovers they got the guy and the plate numbers were close.
I probably would've been arrested.
5. Yeah, totally understandable mixup.
Obligatory "not a police officer, but.." I travel frequently across the Canada/US border, sometimes by bus. On one bus trip, the whole bus was held up by one woman, who was pulled back to be interrogated. An hour later, she gets back on the bus, announcing that there was a person on the most wanted list with her same name. HOWEVER that person was a 5'4 white male, and she was a relatively tall (probably 5'10?) black woman. It took them an hour of interrogating her to realize they had the wrong person🤦♀️
HOWEVER that person was a 5'4 white male, and she was a relatively tall (probably 5'10?) black woman. It took them an hour of interrogating her to realize they had the wrong person🤦♀️
4. America's Most Wrong.
I'm not a cop, but my mom had a story for this happen to her. Basically, it revolves around the show "Americas Most Wanted."
A woman who looked almost EXACTLY like my mom was featured on the show. She had the same hair, same face, and the kicker, same name. They even showed my moms actual information (which I won't list here) as being the criminal's.
The story ended like every story on that show does. "If you have ANY information regarding the whereabouts of this dangerous criminal, please call this number"
Now onto my moms perspective.
She was just sitting at home on a Saturday night alone, as she lived alone. She was reading a Stephen King book, when she hears some commotion coming from the hallway. She ignores it. Lots of yelling. She had not seen the show which painted her as a criminal.
Then suddenly BAM!!! Her door is knocked down in an instant. About 10 cops flood into her 1 bedroom apartment, and she is arrested.
She explained they had the wrong person. They claimed everything matched. Social security matched. DNA matched. Name matched. Photo resemblance matched.
It turns out the woman was basically stealing my moms identity, and intentionally making herself look like my mom. The end result is that when they created a profile for the criminal, they used my moms information to start with. So when they arrested my mom, of course the information matched.....it was her information originally.
They kept her in jail for 2 weeks. It wasn't until they took fingerprints from the scene of a crime they said she committed, and the prints didn't match, that they realized she wasnt the criminal.
It's scary to think if they had used her profile prints, rather then crime scene prints as the set to compare to, that she would have been still in jail today. It was basically a life sentence.
3. Oh sure, blame the little kid.
I was a curious little kid. My father stopped at a the local liquor store to grab a bottle of wine and I was poking around. The door to the office was unlocked and I wandered inside, sat in the chair and spun around a few times, got bored, wandered out.
A few days later my father gets a call from the police, and we go in. As the officer is speaking to us I proceed to spun around in the chair and pick up and look at everything on his desk. After about a minute the officer says, "thank you for coming in. I see what happened. You can go."
Turned out the owner's teenage son stole a few grand from the store and tried to blame it on the handsy 5-year-old.
2. Filing a false report is a crime, and rightly so. Too bad stupidity isn't.
Not a police officer, but I was the wrong guy once.
I was dating this girl and when things didn't work out, she got vindictive. She had a copy of my car insurance and got a guy friend to pose as me to call the police and report my vehicle stolen. I go be-bopping out of work one glorious Friday afternoon and get felony stopped by about 10 Dallas, TX PD officers. Guns drawn on me and everything, right outside of the large office complex I worked at. Turns out the people who reported my car stolen used their own phone number when filing the report and eventually got caught and charged.
1. We gotta stop traumatizing innocent people.
Well like many other posts I'm not a PO but I did get felony stopped while on Las Vegas blvd. I left work pulled out of the parking garage and turned right on Tropicana. I then see lights behind me and start to pullover thinking it was an emergency vehicle. I am then surrounded by police with guns drawn. This was like midnight on the strip so it was intense. Police make get out walk backwards with my hands on my head. They cuff me and tear into my car almost immediately.
Long story short it was another Mustang with out of state tags involved in a robbery. That was an intense evening.
Have you ever known an innocent person that was charged with a crime? What happened?
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You know it's not a great place to work when employees band together to walk out. Literally.
Unions were basically created for this reason, by having the working people band together to fight against being mistreated by corporations, they create power in numbers. Even without a formal union, there is still power in numbers--no company wants to be tasked with explaining themselves like that.