UPDATE 3/29 4:06 p.m. ET: During a court hearing regarding Darren Cole's lawsuit Monday, it was revealed that Marion County had terminated the warrant for a different person that caused police to detain Cole dozens of times, according to Sara Rosenburg, who is part of Cole's legal team. The warrant has also been removed from the Chicago Police's database. "As of today, our client is a free man," Rosenburg told VICE News.
For nearly half of his adult life, Darren Cole says he has been dogged by police.
Thanks to a longstanding case of mistaken identity, Chicago officers have held the 50-year-old at gunpoint, threatened him with violence, punched him in the mouth, and forced him to lie face down in the snow, according to a federal lawsuit he filed against the city last week. All in all, Cole says he has been detained about 60 times since 2006.
Cole happens to share a nearly identical driver’s license number, name, and birthday with someone who has an outstanding warrant for a failure to appear in court after driving with a suspended license, according to Cole’s complaint.
While Cole’s never once been charged as a result of the many police detentions he has endured stemming from that warrant for a different person, his life has nonetheless become a state of “perpetual tension and unease,” according to the lawsuit. He says his kids won’t ride in any car that’s registered to him, he wasn’t able to visit his father on his deathbed, and he hasn’t been able to visit his elderly mother.
And this is all despite his many attempts to rectify the problem by telling police he’s not that Darren Cole.
“The City of Chicago has an obligation to ensure its record-keeping and its information management are up to date—and are kept up to date in order to protect the constitutional rights of all Chicagoans,” Sara Rosenburg, a law student at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and part of the team representing Cole, told VICE News. “It has failed to do so in this case, which has caused life-changing and life-ruining consequences for Mr. Cole.”
Cole maintains his own personal 5 p.m. curfew just to avoid police traffic checkpoints, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“I’m very scared. I’m a grown man and I got a curfew. I have to be in the house early. This right here, I’m traumatized,” Cole told the newspaper. “It hurts so bad to talk about it now.”
The Chicago Police Department told VICE News said it could not comment on pending litigation. A spokesperson for the city’s department of law , meanwhile, said in an email: “We have received the complaint and are currently reviewing it.”
Cole began to be unfairly detained back in about the spring of 2006, according to his lawsuit, when Chicago police officers pulled him over and told him there was a warrant out for his arrest. Though he was later released, police allegedly held him for four hours.
Soon after that, Cole allegedly went to a local police station to ask how he could clear up inaccuracies and prevent the incident from happening again.
He was told there wasn’t anything he could do other than carry documentation to prove his identity, according to the lawsuit.
And the frightening encounters continued.
Later that year, when Chicago cops pulled Cole over again, an officer pointed his gun at Cole, warned that he’d be shot if he moved, and forced him to lie face-down in the snow, according to the lawsuit.
In 2008, a determined Cole requested that he be fingerprinted at the Chicago Police Department’s headquarters to prove he was not the wanted man. He also went to the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, which called the sheriff’s office in Marion County—where the warrant for the other man was issued—to try to clear things up. But it was still up to the Chicago Police Department to fix the problem according to the lawsuit.
When Cole sought help from a law firm in 2014, he was able to get a letter from the then-sheriff of Marion County explaining the situation, and saying that he shouldn’t be detained. Cole started carrying this letter on him at all times, though it didn’t seem to help.
A few years later, Chicago cops pulled Cole over once more after he allegedly turned without using his signal. Backup officers showed up and told Cole there was a warrant out for his arrest, according to the lawsuit. Cole attempted to explain the recurring problem, but an officer allegedly punched him in the mouth. He was detained for several hours.
In 2018, Cole went to the 11th District police station in Chicago and was able to get a different handwritten note from a sergeant indicating, again, that the warrant was not for him, according to the lawsuit.
Even after obtaining that note from the police sergeant, in addition to his letter from the Marion County sheriff, he was still allegedly detained by police. When Cole was pulled over in one instance in 2019 and provided his documentation to police, officers proceeded to handcuff him “so tightly that his hands went numb and his shoulders felt as if they were being pulled from their sockets,” according to Cole’s lawsuit.
The last police stop documented in the lawsuit happened just a few months ago, in December of 2020. Cole hopes his new lawsuit results in Chicago Police updating records to clarify that he’s not the subject of the warrant, and providing him with official documentation that he can keep with him in case he’s stopped again. He’s also asking for monetary damages for his pain and suffering, according to Rosenburg.
There is a hearing scheduled for Cole’s case in Chicago on Monday afternoon.