CLOVIS, NM - A New Mexico family believes race may have been a factor when their 12 year old son was wrongfully arrested and booked into juvenile jail for a crime he never committed.
Clovis police blame a clerical error for mistaking 12-year-old Marcus Lewis for an older boy with a very similar name, then arresting him.
Marcus's family now plans to sue for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment.
It was just after 6:00 on Sunday night, when Marcus started the short walk home from a friend's house. "I was walking on the street kind of by the curb and an officer pulled up," he said. The officer told Marcus he was walking on the wrong side of street. "Because of oncoming traffic or something like that," Marcus said.
When the officer ran Marcus's name, a warrant charge showed up for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute at Marshall Middle School back in February. "And then he handcuffed me, put me in the car and took me to the station," Marcus said. Marcus spent the night in the Curry County Juvenile Detention Center, while his parents and sister, Shaniqua Byrd, sat worrying at home. "They weren't telling us anything so we had to wait until the next morning," Byrd said.
There was a problem with the warrant, though. Marcus wasn't even a student at Marshall Middle School at the time of the offense. Byrd says he was a 6th grader at James Bickley Elementary. Marcus's name and birthday are on the original affidavit, but the social security number isn't his and a boy with a similar name is printed in the facts of the case.
Clovis Police Chief Steve Sanders declined to go on camera, but said the department was wrong to arrest Marcus. He says the incident is still under investigation and it's unclear if any officers will face reprimands. Sanders said the officer who worked the marijuana case at Marshall Middle School in February used the school district's data base, and entered Marcus's info in place of the actual 15-year-old suspect, who's name was only a few letters different from Marcus's.
Sanders says it was a mistake on the department's part and they will do everything in their power to right the wrong. "We're suing because he was in the juvenile detention center overnight," Byrd said. "He's 12. That doesn't shouldn't have happened and no one has offered an apology or anything we haven't heard anything from them." What bothers Marcus's family most, though, is the fact he was stopped at all. Byrd says she doesn't want to believe race was the reason... "But I see no other reason," she said.
"I've never heard about it being wrong to walk on one side of the street." The police report from Marcus's arrest does not detail why the officer stopped him. The patrol officer wrote "I observed a black male walking in the roadway. I stopped out with the male who was identified to me as Marcus Lewis."