Steven Talley: Rappin’ and Ridin’ and (Not) Stealin’
Apr. 28, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — There’s an old saying, “you can beat the rap, but you can’t beat the ride.” Meaning, if you get charged with a crime, you might win the case, but you’re still going to get locked up, or have to post bail, get a lawyer, lose your job, be shunned by your friends and family, get kicked out of your house, expelled from school, or some subset of the above. Steven Talley lived that cliché, the only unusual thing about him is that he had to do it twice.
After a pair of bank robberies in Denver, a maintenance man called in a tip after seeing after seeing a photo of the suspect on TV, and (mis)identified Talley. The police showed the photo to Talley’s ex-wife and her roommate, who agreed it was Talley. The ride began: police lured him out of his house by having an officer claim that he had hit Talley’s car and needed him to look at the damage.
In a shirt and boxers, Talley said he went outside with the man, who pointed him toward the driver’s side of his Jeep.
“And as soon as I looked down there, I would say within one or two seconds, a flash grenade,” he said. “There were people that looked like Army personnel, with big guns, running at me.”
Talley kept his head and did the right thing:
“I basically said to him, ‘You’ve got the wrong guy. You’ve got the wrong guy, and I want an attorney,'” Talley said.
Talley was charged with the two bank robberies. Upon meeting his public defender, he informed his attorney of his alibi for the first robbery (he was at work, which his badge access logs and security camera footage confirmed.)
In the meantime, the police had the suspect’s fingerprints from the crime scene, but apparently never compared them to Talley’s (only a cynic would suggest that they did compare the fingerprints, and didn’t tell anyone when they didn’t match). Also,
[W]hen investigators presented Talley’s photo in a line-up to the victims of the robberies, the results were very different. Both the teller in the May robbery, and the off-duty officer in the bank who tried to stop it, picked other photos. And, a second teller said she was only “85 percent sure” Talley was the robber.
Nevertheless, once Talley’s lawyer presented evidence of the alibi, the prosecutor dismissed the case.
So far, Talley’s case exhibits only ordinary stupidity. The police got the wrong guy, and Talley lost his job and his home; but as sad as that is, that’s a “dog bites man” story. Then it gets weird.
In December, 2015, Talley was arrested again, this time for the second robbery only. This time, arrest was based on solid investigative work:
This time, Denver prosecutors said FBI facial recognition technology proved Talley was the man seen in the surveillance video of the second bank robbery.
But at a preliminary hearing, his defense attorney pointed out Talley has a mole on his right cheek, something not seen on the bank robbery suspect in the surveillance video.
“If they can miss a mole on a guy’s face, I don’t know how anyone can rely on this facial recognition technology,” defense attorney Benjamin Hartford said.
Bonita Shipp proved to be a more important witness. She’s the bank teller who was robbed on Sept. 5, 2014. Shipp testified that Talley was not the man who held her up. [Shipp did initially identify Talley with “85% confidence but changed her mind after seeing the video.]
The judge bound the case over after the prelimimary hearing, but ordered Talley released from jail on a personal bond. The police went back to the drawing board:
The analysis [by the FBI] determined the suspect in the first bank robbery at 6333 E. Colfax Ave. stood 5-foot-11. The analysis from the second bank robbery suggest the suspect wearing a black baseball cap was about 6-foot.
An investigator for the Denver District Attorney’s Office used a yellow tape measure in a private room next to the courtroom and found Talley to be approximately 6-foot-3.
It still took a month for the prosecutor to dismiss the case.
But no doubt, the police are just doing their job, and Talley is just monumentally unlucky, right? What are the chances they could do this to someone else, right? Pretty good, apparently:
After being wrongfully arrested by Denver police and spending 12 days in jail, a desperate Christian Robinson was willing to do just about anything to prove his innocence.
Ultimately, he dropped his pants in court to show authorities he didn’t have the real crook’s telltale Scooby-Doo tattoo on the back of his thigh.
Ultimately, the officers decided to arrest Robinson, saying they would “just let the system sort it out,” a judge wrote in court papers.
The “sorting” is awfully rough on the wrongfully accused.
All of us, prosecutors and police included, suffer from tunnel vision and confirmation bias from time to time. This is something more. At best, this is the blind arrogance of being so completely certain that they had their man that they refused to even consider any alternative. After all, the police could have done the height analysis and shown the video to Shipp before arresting Talley for the second time. And, having royally screwed up once, you’d think that they would have extra careful the second time. But the second implies something worse: that the police and prosecutors didn’t really care who actually robbed the banks as much as they did about railroading Talley. After all, the system would sort it out.
So Talley beat the rap, twice. Not so much the ride:
“Destroyed my life, destroyed my family. I haven`t seen my kids. Destroyed my career, destroyed my health, almost killed me. So what did it not do? And I’m still living like this, living on the streets,” Talley said.
He also suffered a more…intimate…injury:
Talley said he was beaten by members of the Denver SWAT team during his arrest. He said one officer swung a baton at his groin.
“I have what’s called a fractured penis. I didn’t even think you could break a penis,” he said.
Well, now we know. He probably won’t get the apology he wants, either, because absolute and/or qualified immunity means never having to say you’re sorry. But when the police arrest a bank robber, there’s always a chance of someone getting hurt along the way.