UPDATE: Settlement in Tallahassee False Arrest Suit

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[UPDATE] 8.7.2012 by Julie Montanaro

A Tallahassee man who sued the city for malicious prosecution has agreed to a settlement.

The man was accused of a church break in, but officers never told the prosecutor or the judge that the man's prints had been left behind on a check nearly 25 years earlier.

Keith Griffin found himself under arrest and behind bars in 2010 after police found his fingerprints in a ransacked office at New Salem Miissionary Baptist Church.

The felony charges were dropped when prosecutors realized those prints were on a paycheck Griffin cashed back in 1986. That check was kept in the church's financial records.

Griffin sued the city in federal court claiming malicious prosecution.

"I always had a healthy respect for law enforcement. Now that's completely changed for me because if it could happen to me, you know, a homeowner just minding his business in his own home, it could happen to anybody," Griffin said soon after filing suit in October 2011.

Court records show Griffin and the city reached a settlement last week.

The city paid Griffin $35,000 - and perhaps most important to the IT professional - the police chief will write a letter that Griffin can present to any future employers who question his arrest.

"His honesty shouldn't be questiioned," city attorney Lew Shelley said, "and this is just to make sure that in terms of employment, in terms of any kind of security clearance that there's no question."

The assistant police chief says the officer and crime scene technicians who worked on the case did not violate any policies and were never disciplined.

Griffin's lawsuit criticized TPD for a lack of communication between crime scene technicians and investigators. It also questioned why no one is required to review a case in its entirety before seeking a warrant.

The city attorney says the police department is now revising its policies to ensure that those who collect evidence communicate with investigators about the context in which evidence was found.

"We are in the process of revising the process, the procedures with respect to the interaction between the police officer who's investigating and the crime scene technicians ... to make sure there is better communication - mandatory communication - between those folks so hopefully this type of situation will not happen again," Lew Shelley said.

Griffin's attorney, James Cook, says that change in TPD's policies is a very meaningful outcome. He says he hopes it will eliminate what he called a "conveyer belt mentality" in the way TPD handles cases.

Cook says Griffin agreed to the settlement because this was extremely painful for him and he preferred to have all of this over.

"I know it's cliche," Cook said, " but it was never really about the money."
UPDATED 10.28.2011 by Julie Montanaro

A Tallahassee man is suing the City of Tallahassee for false arrest.

He claims a fingerprint from a 20 year old check put him behind bars, tarnished his name and threatens his livelihood to this day.

"The church ... I pass by it everyday because it's right down from my home. So everyday I'm taking my daughter to school, I have to be reminded about this arrest," Keith Griffin said.

Keith Griffin used to play the piano at New Salem Missionary Baptist Church and lead the youth choir.

He hasn't worked there since the late 80's but last year, police came knocking on his door and arrested him for breaking into the church and stealing microphones, a keyboard and computer equipment worth more than $10,000 dollars.

"I always had a healthy respect for law enforcement. Now that's completely changed for me because if it could happen to me, you know, a homeowner just mindinghis business in his own home, it could happen to anybody," Griffin said.

Arrest papers say police found Griffin's prints on a check in one of the ransacked rooms.

The state dropped the charges a couple months later when it realized the check was dated 1986 and had been cashed and filed with the church's financial records 24 years earlier.

"The fact that the officer didn't turn that information over to the judge who signed the warrant or even to the prosecutor shows an awareness that there was no basis for his arrest.," said Griffin's attorney James Cook. "There was no evidence of any kind other than that check."

Griffin is an I-T professional with the state. He has regained his security clearance, but fears the arrest could haunt him for the rest of his career.

"If I have to go out and look for another job again, I may never get another job in my profession of 20 years, because I'm a 20 year veteran in I-T and this could all just be taken away from me based on a wrongful arrest," Griffin said.

Griffin and his attorney say they offered to settle the case for $60,000 if the city would provide a letter he could show future employers that indicated the charges were unfounded. They say the city never responded.

Cook says the suit will be filed in the next couple of weeks.

The city attorney has not yet responded to our request for comment on this case.

Tallahassee, Florida - October 28, 2011 -

Law Office of James Cook Release:

Keith Griffin, a state IT professional and local jazz musician, announced today that he would file a lawsuit against the City of Tallahassee for arresting him without probable cause and causing him to be prosecuted on criminal charges without a legal basis.

The lawsuit arises from a break-in last year at the New Salem Primitive Baptist Church where Mr. Griffin was employed as a musician decades ago. Back in 1986, Mr. Griffin received a check from the church which he deposited into his personal account. The check was returned to the church in its monthly bank statement, and filed in the church offices as record.

On September 2, 2010, the church was broken into and electronic equipment was stolen. Tallahassee police officers found the 24-year-old check in the church and developed fingerprints on the check that was made out to and endorsed by Mr. Griffin. The officers applied for an arrest warrant but failed to disclose to the judge who signed the warrant that the check had been made out to and deposited by Mr. Griffin in 1986.

Tallahassee police officers also failed to turn a copy of the check over to the State Attorney's office until the state attorney sent a memo requesting it. After the State Attorney was able to review the check as evidence, charges against Mr. Griffin were dropped.

Mr. Griffin works in the Information Technology field where he is often required to pass security screenings. His arrest will affect his chosen career for the rest of his life.

Mr. Griffin, who was an active member of his Neighborhood Watch organization, was arrested in front of his home and in front of wife with six officers present for the arrest. "It was a terrifying experience," Mr. Griffin said. "I don't wish that experience on anybody."

Mr. Griffin initially offered to settle for a modest amount if the city would provide a letter he could show potential employers explaining the criminal charges were unfounded. The city did not reply to the offer.

"I think it's a shame that I'm forced to do this to vindicate my reputation as an honest person. I would've liked to get this behind me and my family. We have all suffered a lot," Mr. Griffin said.

The lawsuit complaint alleges that Tallahassee police failed to tell the judge who authorized the warrant that the check was 24 years old, that it had been made out to Mr. Griffin deposited by him and returned to the church. Mr. Griffin claims TPD Investigators withheld the information because it would have been clear that the check was not credible evidence in the burglary investigation.

"The police omitted critical information from their reports to make the arrest stick; hoping I would get scared and plead to the crime before anyone figured out what was going on. As far as I know, no one was disciplined" said Mr. Griffin. "Who knows how many other people this has happened to?"

Mr. Griffin plans to file the lawsuit later today.

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