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Lawsuit: Autistic man falsely arrested, held in Utah jail

Published June 10, 2014 4:31 pm

Allegations • Layton says mistake came after the real suspect gave a wrong name.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Layton police mistakenly arrested an autistic Layton man and kept him four days in jail, where he eventually suffered a panic attack, according to a federal court lawsuit.

Police arrested Lance James Whitaker believing he was the man who had failed to show up in court on a shoplifting charge for stealing a pen from Shopko.

Whitaker, 43, was held in the Davis County jail for four days last year, unable to call his elderly father because he lacked a credit card, according to the complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court.

"Mr. Whitaker suffers from autism and despite his repeated statements to jail personnel that he did not understand what was going on, he was ignored, threatened and told to 'shut up,' " the complaint says.

Whitaker began banging his head and screaming and was transferred to another wing of the jail where he suffered a panic attack, it says

After four days behind bars, one of the jail employees allowed Whitaker to call his father on an office phone and bond was then posted for his release.

Steve Garside, assistant city attorney for Layton, said police in May of 2013 had arrested a man named Lancer Whitaker for shoplifting, carrying a concealed dangerous weapon and providing false information to a police officer.

Lancer Lee Whitaker, 42, gave officers the name of Lance Whitaker, said Garside, who said Lancer Whitaker had given false information in a number of other arrests.

"He's used false identifications on several occasions that we're aware of and that's what happened in this situation," said Garside. "He misidentified himself and he was familiar enough with those other identities that he had the numbers memorized and those types of things."

When Lancer Whitaker failed to show up for court, a warrant was issued for a Lance Whitaker. Lance Whitaker was arrested on July 19, 2013, and held until a hearing four days later. The charges were dismissed in August 2013 when officials confirmed the wrong person had been arrested.

The lawsuit alleges civil rights violations for false arrest and imprisonment, invasion of privacy and defamation. The lawsuit asks for unspecified compensation and punitive damages.

Garside said because the problem was created by Lancer Whitaker's use of a false name, "I do not anticipate any liability against Layton city."

An attorney for Lance James Whitaker did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

tharvey@sltrib.com