Sharing name with suspects leaves innocent people in handcuffs - WSMV News 4

Sharing name with suspects leaves innocent people in handcuffs

Updated:
MURFREESBORO, TN (WSMV) -

A Channel 4 I-Team investigation found cases of people arrested, charged and jailed, simply because they share the first and last names of suspects in crime.

For Benjamin Nichols, it started when a car linked to a suspect in an attempted theft and vandalism at a car wash in Murfreesboro was traced back to a man who shared his same name in Murfreesboro.

When the Murfreesboro officer found Benjamin Nichols in their system, who matched the description as a heavy set white male, and issued a warrant.

Five months later, Nichols, who lives in Petersburg, was arrested on that warrant for the Benjamin Nichols who lived in Murfreesboro.

"(I said) this is clearly a mistake. I’ve never lived at that address,” Nichols said.

Nichols was arrested, booked and taken to jail.

Officer Eric Barton, who had seen surveillance video of the crime at the car wash that has since been deleted, even identified Nichols in court.

"And he said immediately, yep, that's him. And my heart just balled up and sank,” Nichols said.

When you look at Nichols mug shot, and the mug shot of the Benjamin Nichols in Murfreesboro, there is no similarity.

Left, Benjamin Nichols of Murfreesboro, Right, Benjamin Nichols of Petersburg

It was only when Nichols dug up his time sheets that showed he was at work on the night of the crime were his charges finally dropped.

When the Channel 4 I-Team brought our findings to the Murfreesboro Police Department, an internal investigation was launched into Barton’s handling of the case.

"When you called and enlightened us to what was going on, we immediately launched an internal affairs investigation,” said Murfreesboro Police Spokesman Kyle Evans.

"Was this just sloppy police work?" asked chief investigative reporter Jeremy Finley.

“Yes. This was a case where the officer certainly did not do diligence in the preliminary investigation,” Evans said.

Evans said the preliminary investigation showed the car in the surveillance video at the car wash was no longer even owned by the Benjamin Nichols in Murfreesboro at the time of the crime.

"Neither of these guys, ultimately, were responsible for this crime,” Finley said.

"That's right, Evans said.

In Shelbyville, Kenneth Munson was arrested and jailed in Lewisburg and in Wilson County when a warrant was issued for a Kenneth Munson in the theft of two trucks.

Beyond just the name, he fit the description as being in his early 50s, being about 6’1 and weighing 180 pounds.

"They handcuffed me, shackled me, and walked me out in front of a courtroom like I was this big criminal,” Munson said.

Four of the victims even identified Munson in a line up.

But court records show two of the victims said that the Kenneth Munson who stole their truck was from Indianapolis.

Wilson County deputies started looking at a Kenneth Munson from Indianapolis.

If you look at the two different Kenneth Munson, there are similarities.

Left, Kenneth Munson of Shelbyville; Right, Kenneth Munson of Indianapolis

While the Indianapolis Munson hasn’t been charged, the victims said the Munson who stole their truck had a neck tattoo and earrings.

If you look at the mug shot of the Indianapolis Munson, you can see his neck tattoo, and the Shelbyville Munson had no neck tattoo and no earrings.

"I kept telling them that you guys have got this messed up. I said, you've got the wrong guy here,” Munson said.

Ultimately, Munson’s charges were dropped in one county and were nollied in another, which means they’re dropped, but the charges can be brought back.

Munson is now suing the Lewisburg Police Department and the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office.

"If you hurt someone intentionally, we'd be held responsible, and police should not be above that,” Munson said.

The Indianapolis Munson is currently in prison, but state records show he was out of prison when the thefts occurred. He has not been charged in the crimes.

The city attorney for Lewisburg would not comment because of the pending litigation, and the sheriff of Wilson County said he too couldn’t comment, but he stands 100 percent behind the findings of his investigation.

In the Nichols case, no one has ever been charged because the surveillance video was accidentally deleted and the car has never been found.

Copyright 2016 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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