Mimesis Law
27 January 2022

The Crime of Being Named Bradley Scott Johnson

Oct. 2, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — Sometimes, a news story comes along that at first seems almost too ridiculous to be true. Bradley Scott Johnson’s story is one of those:

Allegan County sheriff’s deputies and prosecutors realized they had the wrong man more than two months after he was arrested and one day before his trial, emails obtained by Target 8 show.

Bradley Scott Johnson was arrested in May and spent four days in jail on a stalking charge. The victim was a woman he had never met and the man who was supposed to be in jail was her ex-boyfriend, who shares Johnson’s first, middle and last name.

The case nearly made it to trial. Emails Target 8 obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show an assistant prosecutor from Allegan County realized Johnson was the wrong guy — something he had been telling authorities since his arrest.

The cops who arrested Johnson were no doubt desensitized to people telling them they have the wrong person. I can just imagine the sighs and comments like “sure we have the wrong Bradley Scott Johnson” as they went about their daily grind, slapping the cuffs on Johnson by the side of the road and tossing him into a holding cell after driving him back to the station. I’d bet Johnson complained less than plenty of people who weren’t the wrong person. He was probably in shock more than anything. Depending on how much the officers told him, he might’ve spent a while just marveling at how tough Allegan County must be when it comes to traffic infractions.

Sadly, arresting the wrong guy is bad, but it’s nothing novel. Seeing just how often cops do it was a real eye-opener when I first started practicing law. Now, it’s just another reason to briefly shake my head and move on to the next outrage.

What distinguishes Johnson’s situation is the fact that he wasn’t just arrested, but booked and then held for days. Did the police not take prints when they took him back to the station? He must have seen a judge at some point. Was the judge as desensitized to Johnson pleading that he was the wrong guy as the cops were? Or did the judge just cut him off and tell him to be quiet under the guise of stopping him from saying something incriminating? There were no doubt plenty of little quirks of the criminal justice system that, although normally not that objectionable, led to Johnson sitting in jail for days while his criminal namesake probably continued to stalk the victim Johnson had never met.

The fact it took two months, up until the day before trial, for someone to finally realize they had the wrong guy makes the situation nothing short of absurd. It is a perfect example of how the voices of criminal defendants are all but ignored. Thinking about it, though, it’s easy to imagine plenty of jurisdictions where prosecutors might not have done anything about it prior to the trial itself. Some prosecutors offices don’t even assign a specific attorney to a case until the day of trial.

Some lazy prosecutors have the file well in advance of trial, ignore calls and don’t open it up until the day of trial. Others talk to the defense about the case, pretend to be considering the points about Johnson being the wrong guy, and then say “policy prevents me from dismissing, we’ll see what the victim says at trial.” The other Johnson’s victim would take time off from work and show up for trial only to wonder who the hell the guy at the defense table is.

Local authorities, of course, are committed to making sure nothing like that happens again:

Target 8 reported the mix-up earlier this month and filed two FOIA requests seeking documents from the Allegan County sheriff’s and prosecutor’s office that would clear up how the mistake happened. The sheriff’s department denied the request, citing an ongoing investigation.

Or maybe not. Want to bet the investigation reveals it was all caused by some fluke and that there’s no need for systemic change to how people are blindly arrested and shuffled through to trial? At least the prosecutor’s office was more open about things:

But Tuesday, the prosecutor’s office provided copies of its emails about the case. The series of emails spans five days.

In an email dated July 31 — two months after Johnson’s arrest — the assistant prosecutor told the deputy who wrote the arrest warrant that there appeared to be two different Bradley Scott Johnsons and that she was likely going to call off the trial because they seemed to have the wrong one.

The assistant prosecutor said that after Johnson’s defense attorney told her that he was “almost positive that it’s not his client,” the two looked up his booking photo and realized there were two Bradley Scott Johnsons with different birth dates.

The deputy responded and said that he remembered “some confusion” at the time the warrant was issued. He said that if the man in custody was claiming to be the wrong guy, he would “be inclined to believe him.” The suspect dated the alleged victim for some time and spoke in person with Lawton police, the deputy said, so it would be a “terrible defense” to claim he didn’t know the alleged victim.

Later, the deputy said that he wasn’t sure how the mistake happened, saying, “somehow an error seems to have been made during the warrant being entered.”

Shouldn’t the deputy have mentioned the warrant confusion at some point? Maybe sometime prior to Johnson having spent four days in jail? Maybe sooner than days before trial and only when asked directly?

It’s oddly heartening that the officer would eventually believe Johnson’s claim given cops’ general predilection for adjusting their narrative by any means necessary to provide firmer evidence of defendants’ guilt when informed about a defense, but didn’t Johnson maintain he was the wrong guy from the beginning? I guess the officer had far more important things on his mind.

Whereas the system’s rampant incompetence left one Johnson worse for the wear, the real one might benefit from it:

The prosecutor dropped the case against Johnson on Aug. 4 and told the deputy to refile it against the correct man. That didn’t happen until Sept. 16, six days after Target 8’s investigation aired. Baker said he doesn’t know why charges weren’t refiled for more than a month.

The correct suspect in the case, who lives in Van Buren County, has not been arrested. Baker said that the more serious the crime is, the more resources are devoted to finding the suspect. He said that in a case like this one, the suspect will likely be arrested if he turns himself in or is pulled over for something like a traffic violation — which is what happened to the man who was actually arrested.

It would seem that it took some bad press to make them even bother filing charges against the right guy. You may be wondering why they would be willing to arrest and hold the wrong man and then plow ahead right up until trial before figuring out their mistake, yet they seem to not care less about going after the right guy when they figure out who he is. Oddly, it just seems like the way things are done if you deal with the system regularly.

Judges and prosecutors are pretty much obsessed with people in their grasp. They take hard lines when it comes to release conditions, plea offers, and everything else for pending cases, yet they are often apathetic with anything that isn’t already on their desk. They’ll get to it sometime, and then it’ll seem like the most important thing in the world, as if their lives depended on ensuring the harshest possible consequences as soon as possible.

Bradley Scott Johnson was just another name on a file. It still is, and the right guy will probably end up going through the same thing the wrong guy had to endure previously. What happened to the wrong guy, however, should provide reason to wonder how much trust the system deserves to get the right result where it isn’t so obvious.

If the right outcome is the product of a last-minute realization after days of jail and months of worry heading up to the day before trial when the very basis of the case is a ridiculous mix-up, why on earth would anyone even entertain the notion that the same system can be trusted to get a fair result when it’s a closer call?

6 Comments on this post.

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  • REvers
    2 October 2015 at 9:25 am - Reply

    What will probably happen is the wrong guy will end up getting arrested again, and again, and again. At least, that’s the way it usually works in my neck of the woods.

  • nidefatt
    2 October 2015 at 1:13 pm - Reply

    Stuff like this happens, but you don’t sit in jail for two months because your defense attorney isn’t a bozo. Nothing in this explains to me why the defense attorney didn’t do more. I don’t see “defense attorney attempted to get a bond hearing to show a judge it wasn’t his client and subpoena the victim” or anything remotely like that. Just, 2 months in, defense attorney says they are “almost positive” their client isn’t the guy.

    I’m sorry, but the answer to this problem already exists, and its called zealous representation, and this guy did not have it.

    • shg
      2 October 2015 at 3:14 pm - Reply

      That’s a glaring hole in the narrative. Where was the defense lawyer in all of this?

      • Matt Brown
        2 October 2015 at 3:42 pm - Reply

        I would guess the prosecutor said he wasn’t seeking jail, so the court refused to appoint counsel and it took the guy a while to find (or get the money to pay for) one. Or they might have done it like they do here and took forever to actually notify the appointed lawyer of the appointment, though the lawyer being totally incompetent isn’t that unlikely a possibility too.

        • shg
          2 October 2015 at 4:11 pm - Reply

          I’m fascinated by places where counsel isn’t appointed (and present) at arraignment. The concept is so foreign to me.

  • Bradley Scott Johnson
    23 December 2015 at 6:01 pm - Reply

    Hello, it’s me. Yes, I did have an attorney, (court appointed) and the very first time I met up with him was by video-phone. He had the copy of the police report and told me the picture of the guy in the report didnt look like me. I asked him to schedule a line-up and the only thing he had to say to me in response was; We will set this for trial. That was comforting. I only spent 4 days in jail thanks to my mom posting bond for me. If not for her, I would have spent 73 days total. I have plenty more to say, but will save it for later because I’m not sure if anybody is still interested in this story. I would like to thank the person who took the time to write this story. It means a lot. Happy Holidays everyone!!