OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - Oakland Police kept a man on its Most Wanted list for six months though he was not wanted for anything, the man claims in court.
Chau Van sued Oakland, its Police Chief Howard Jordan, and Officers Johnna Watson and Cynthia Perkins, in Federal Court.
Watson and Perkins work in the Police Department Media Relations Office.
Van claims the defendants publicly branded him "a violent felon," though he is "a law abiding citizen with no history of violence."
The first he heard of the fiasco, Van says, was when a friend called him on Feb. 7, 2012, and told him that KTVU-TV was broadcasting his name and picture, describing him as "one of Oakland's Most Wanted criminals."
He went home and checked the Internet and saw that sure enough, "his name and face were on the news and that it was being reported that he was responsible for a shooting," Van says in the complaint.
The news left him "shocked and afraid" and "scared that the police would break into his house and possibly harm him based on this mistake," Van says in the complaint.
He says he called his attorney, Stuart Hanlon, who "advised him to stay in his house," for fear "that Mr. Van may be harmed if the police saw him in public and attempted to apprehend him as a reported violent felon."
Hanlon called the Oakland Police, who told him that there was no arrest warrant for Van, even though he was on the Most Wanted list, the complaint states.
After "nearly a week of hiding in fear," Van turned himself in on Feb. 13, "to resolve this devastating mistake," the complaint states.
He was held for 72 hours, never charged with anything, then released, according to the complaint.
Yet on Feb. 14, the Oakland Police Department released a statement, "Most Wanted Turns Himself In," which began: "One of Oakland's four most wanted suspects has been taken off the streets. Last week, Oakland's Police Chief Howard Jordan named Van Chau as one of the City's four most wanted criminals. Today, the Oakland Police
Department reports that Van Chau is off the streets of Oakland and is safely behind bars after turning himself in due to media pressure. Chief Howard Jordan said, 'A week ago I stood with community members and asked the community to stand with me to fight crime and today we have one less criminal on our streets. Today a victim is one step closer to justice.'"
The press statement includes a mug shot of Van, and claims that he "was identified as the person responsible for assaulting his victim with a deadly weapon, leaving the victim hospitalized with serious head injuries, on December 9, 2011, at 12:23 a.m."
To add injury to insult, Van says in the complaint, he "spent several months trying to get his name and image removed" from the Most Wanted list.
"This is pretty outrageous," John L. Burris, Van's attorney in this lawsuit, told Courthouse News in an interview. "We don't know how this mistake was made. We don't know how this happened.
"Once your name gets there, it's hard for people not to believe it. It's like defamation. It's hard to get your reputation back."
Van seeks costs and punitive damages for defamation, false arrest and imprisonment, civil rights violations, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The Oakland Police Department declined to comment to Courthouse News, as did the Oakland City Attorney's Office.