Black man was jailed after Nevada police mistook him for white man, lawsuit claims

·4 min read

Shane Lee Brown spent days in a Nevada jail on a felony warrant for a crime he didn't commit.

It wasn't until his day in court that officials finally looked at mug shots and realized they had the wrong man, according to a lawsuit and court records reviewed by USA TODAY.

Brown, a 25-year-old Black man, is suing the Las Vegas Metropolitan and Henderson police departments saying he was unlawfully detained after police mistook him for Shane Neal Brown, 51, a white man with a felony warrant, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed this month by his attorney E. Brent Bryson.

"Had any of the LVMPD or any corrections officers performed any due diligence ... they would have easily determined that Shane Lee Brown has been misidentified as the subject of the warrant," the lawsuit says.

The mix-up began Jan. 8, 2020, when Henderson officers pulled the younger Brown over while he was driving home from work. Brown did not have his driver's license with him but gave officers his name and social security card, according to the lawsuit and the police report.

While officers checked their records, they confused Shane Lee Brown, who was 24 at the time, with Shane Neal Brown, who was 49 and accused of being a felon in possession of a firearm, the lawsuit claims. The younger Brown is Black, has black hair and no beard, while the elder Brown is white, has brown hair and a white beard, and is 4 inches taller, the lawsuit says.

WRONGFUL CONVICTION: After 43 years in prison on a wrongful conviction, Kevin Strickland is getting no restitution. He's not alone.

Police initially pulled Lee Brown over because "the vehicle was unregistered and without headlights at dusk," according to the Henderson Police incident report, which lists a suspended driver's license and traffic warrants as the reasons for arrest.

The report mentions the weapons-related charge, but not as a reason for arrest: "Additionally, Henderson Dispatch advised Shane had a no bail, felony warrant out of Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department for weapon related charges."

Lee Brown was detained until Jan. 10 at the Henderson Detention Center, then taken to the Clark County Detention Center and held until Jan. 14 after Las Vegas police issued a bench warrant certifying he was the man wanted on the felony warrant, according to the lawsuit.

But it wasn't until a hearing on Jan. 14 that Shane Lee Brown was released from jail after public defender Shannon L. Phenix told the court that police had arrested the wrong person.

"Ms. Phenix advised that the incorrect individual had been arrested on the bench warrant in the instant case," court documents state, noting that the younger Brown was released from custody after his mug shot was compared to the elder Brown.

The lawsuit says the younger Brown repeatedly told Henderson and Las Vegas police officers he was not the elder Brown, but police "failed to perform even a cursory review of the warrant to determine if Shane Lee Brown was the person named in the warrant." Officers could have compared booking photos with existing mug shots or compared fingerprints, birthdates, ID numbers or physical descriptions of the two men, according to the lawsuit.

CASH BAIL REFORM: 60% of people awaiting trial can't afford bail. A civil rights commission can't agree on reform.

Kathleen Richards, a spokesperson for the city of Henderson – which was also named in the lawsuit – said in a statement to USA TODAY that Brown was arrested lawfully "for driving with a suspended license and for a contempt of court, failure to pay warrant issued by Henderson Municipal Court."

"Mr. Brown admitted to the arresting officers that he knew his driver license was suspended and that he had traffic warrants in Henderson," she said. "The plaintiff in this lawsuit has not presented all the facts and circumstances behind his lawful and proper arrest by Henderson Police, which will be further addressed in the City Attorney’s response to the court."

But Bryson, Lee Brown's attorney, told NBC News that they're being sued for keeping him in jail.

"They are not being sued because they arrested him for traffic (violations)," Bryson told NBC News. "They are being sued because they held him wrongfully and then was transported for a felony warrant, which wasn't him."

The Henderson police report confirms the younger Brown told police that his license was suspended and he had traffic warrants in Henderson.

Henderson Police sent the USA TODAY the same statement as the city's, and Las Vegas police said the department "does not provide comment on pending litigation."

Roxann McCoy, president of the Las Vegas NAACP, told 8 News Now it was "unfortunate" that "nobody took the time to do their due diligence."

"Let’s talk about what they did wrong and figure out how we fix this so this does not happen to another not just Black man but another citizen, period, in this city," McCoy said.

The lawsuit, filed Jan. 7 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, also names Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo and Henderson Police Department Chief Thedrick Andres as defendants. The lawsuit is seeking $50,000 and claims police violated Brown's rights under the fourth, fifth and 14th amendments.

Contact News Now Reporter Christine Fernando at cfernando@usatoday.com or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nevada police sued after Black man mistaken for white man with felony

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting