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Innocent Man Spent Six Weeks On Rikers Because He Fit Vague Suspect Description

A Harlem man who was arrested on the 1 train in October 2012 because he fit the vague description of a suspect in a backpack-theft incident—namely, a "young African American male with a dark hoodie"—is suing the city and his arresting officer for wrongful arrest and the violation of his civil rights.

The News reports that David Owens, 20 years old at the time of the incident, spent a total of 6 weeks on Rikers Island before prosecutors stated that they could not substantiate the charges filed against him, and the case was dropped.

Owens clocked out of his night shift at the Herald Square Macy's at 3:00 a.m. on October 23, 2012, according to his suit. He then boarded the 1 train at 34th Street towards Harlem; at 50th Street, several cops entered his car, demanded his ID, removed him from the train, searched him, and arrested him.

Owens was able to present a solid alibi in the form of his Macy's time card, but this wasn't enough to slow the momentum of the arrest. Owens also says that he presented his supervisor's contact information to the officers, but that Officer Anthony Francavilla, named in the suit, ignored him.

According to the suit, the officers didn't accuse Owens of stealing a backpack until after the arrest. The victim, an allegedly intoxicated white woman (“crying hysterically and having to be physically held up in order to maintain her balance,” according to the suit) stated that Owens was the culprit while he stood against the wall surrounded by officers. Owens did not have a backpack in his possession.

The woman described the incident to officers this way: She had been on the train just before 2:30 a.m., resting her feet on her backpack, when she felt someone take her bag. A person in a hoodie had then exited the train and run up the stairs.

Owens was charged with grand larceny for allegedly stealing a woman's backpack. His bail was set at $3,550.

As a result of his arrest and 6-week stint on Rikers, Owens lost his job at Macy's. "It messed me up,” he told the News this week. "I just hoped and prayed I wouldn’t get killed in there, and I would be able to tell my story."

"He was a guy who was doing all the right things—he was going home from work, he was going to go straight home, and through no fault of his own, he became a victim of the worst stereotype there is: a young African-American male in a hoodie up to no good,” his attorney Andrew Hoffman told Newsweek. "He's frustrated that despite his plausible and verifiable story, the police just weren't interested in listening to him.”

Asked for comment on the arrest, a spokesman for the NYPD stated "we do not comment on pending litigation" and referred all inquiries to the Law Department. The latter stated, "We will review the allegations."

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