San Diego police officers got the wrong Fred Washington

"He didn't assault anyone, or, hurt anyone's child"

On June 13 city councilmembers were asked to approve a six-figure settlement in a lawsuit filed by Fredrick Lee Washington who spent two weeks in jail in 2015 on two felony counts that he had nothing to do with. The actual perpetrator, of no relation, was also named Fred Washington, however, he was eight years older, had a DMV record, and a different social security number.


On March 13, 2015 Fred Washington Jr., who was 51 at the time, got into a fight with his two daughters. Washington wanted to drive but they refused to give him the keys because he was too intoxicated. Washington pulled a hammer out from his bag and began to hit the car. His daughters, with Washington's girlfriend's 18-year-old daughter in the back seat, tried to drive away. Washington hurled the hammer at the car. It struck the backseat window, knocking the teenager unconscious.

The woman was taken to a hospital and later released with minor injuries. Later that day San Diego police officer Matthew Botkin provided a declaration for an arrest warrant. Botkin described the incident but at the end of the report identified the assailant as Frederick Lee Washington, also a black male, but eight years younger and different build. The warrant included one count of serious assault with a deadly weapon, and a felony child abuse count.


On June 3, 2015 U.S. Marshals arrived at a sober living home in Chula Vista where Frederick Lee Washington had been staying at the time. At 8:30 pm Washington arrived at the facility and took a seat at a computer. Marshals approached him and told him he was placed under arrest on two felony charges. Washington, according to the incident report, responded, "what's going on? Why am I being arrested?" A marshal showed him the warrant and he told them they had the wrong guy. But when his date of birth, and social security number matched they proceeded with the arrest. On the way Washington told the marshals, according to the report, that he "didn't assault anyone, or, hurt anyone's child."

Washington spent the following two weeks in jail until a court ordered public defender helped prove Washington was not the right man.

On July 21, 2015 Washington submitted a claim to the city's Risk Management Department. The city rejected the claim. In July the following year, Washington sued the city for negligence, and false imprisonment.

According to Washington's attorney, Pajman Jassim, the city eventually did the right thing. Jassim was unable to state the exact amount of the settlement but confirmed it was in the six-figure range.

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With a name like Fred Washington, there was plenty of reason to think that he might have been right when he protested. The SDPD makes another screw-up, an innocent man sits in the slammer for two weeks, and now the taxpayers pay. Ain't it great?

The first issue here is carelessness which led to the wrong person being incarcerated. The City, like most major corporations, has a liability fund or insurance to cover errors, omissions and acts by its agents or employees. Secondly, it took "the system" two weeks to discover and free and falsely imprisoned person. Both are intolerable components.

What we really should be asking Dorian, (the author of this report) is what has been done to prevent a future reoccurrence? Look, mistakes are made by human beings all the time. But our freedom is precious and mistakes in when it comes to it are more than just dollar figures to the victim. The press, a government watchdog, should be demanding answers on how this happened, not just trumpeting about tax dollars wasted on a gross mistake.

Where were the checks? What procedures are in place? Why did they fail? What can be done to prevent a future similar event? How many times has an incident like this happened? Is it an aberration or are there failure point(s) that should be changed? If a public defender discovered the truth why didn't Detective Boykin or the U.S. Marshals. And, by the way, what were U.S. Marshals, Federal law enforcement officers, doing or looking for at a Chula Vista sober living home? Certainly a local San Diego warrant wasn't the reason? Don't U.S. Marshals have a duty to verify identity too? What about the Sheriff's Department - Since fingerprints are collected on all in custody persons why didn't they discover the error with the identification?

This story raises many questions that Chief Zimmerman needs to publicly answer. While mistakes happen and are made by human beings, our faith in the professionalism and competence of those who protect and serve is diminished. When incidents like this one happen and multiple failures occur, the actions, not to mention the policies and procedures, need to be reviewed, addressed and revised.

I hope he is made whole and the arresting officers are appropriately punished. This could have been avoided if they didn't treat him like any ole "black man".

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