Kevin Gray and his younger brother were headed to Atlanta earlier this month, one of their yearly trips to celebrate their birthdays, when his brother got pulled over for speeding.
But it wasn’t a speeding ticket that stopped the brothers from getting to Atlanta. Instead, Gray was arrested after he was identified as man who hit a Palmetto police officer in January.
The problem with the arrest is that Gray didn’t do it.
Authorities have since admitted that Gray was wrongfully arrested after he was misidentified as the man who hit the officer and the charges have been dismissed.
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Gray knew he had not been involved in the incident at the Walmart store in Palmetto and pleaded with the law enforcement officer in Tift County, Ga., explaining that it had to be a mistake, he recalled on Thursday. But the information on his Florida driver’s license matched the warrant, and he was told law enforcement in Manatee County wanted him arrested and held.
It would be 10 days before Gray was transported back to Manatee County.
After the initial weekend in jail, Gray said he pleaded to a judge that he needed to get back home to his 18-month-old daughter, but ultimately he agreed to be extradited back to Manatee to deal with the false charges. While in jail, he said he was forced to join the Bloods gang.
Hours after arriving at the Manatee County jail on Monday, he appeared before a judge and again claimed his innocence. But the judge only had a grainy, black-and-white copy of the photograph from surveillance video used to identify Gray and therefore could not substantiate the claim.
Probable cause was found for Gray’s arrest on charges of battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest without violence. He was released from the Manatee County jail later that day after being placed on the Supervised Release Program.
It was not until Tuesday, when Gray went to the Palmetto Police Department headquarters, that he saw a colored copy of the photograph police claimed showed him.
“You’re right, that’s not you,” Gray said an officer told him.
Police apologized and assured him it would be taken care of. Later when he was home, Grey received a call from an official with the State Attorney’s Office who made similar promises. When she called back later that day, Gray was told the charges would be dropped and expunged, and that he didn’t need to do anything, he said.
“All they could do is tell me, ‘Sorry,’ and they don’t know how it happened,” Gray said.
That same afternoon, the charges were formally dropped, according to court records.
Trouble at Walmart
The entire case stems from a domestic battery incident that was reported on Jan. 6 from inside the Walmart store in Palmetto. When officers arrived, they were told the perpetrator was running out to the parking lot. An officer chased him to a car where the officer grabbed the suspect’s jacket but the perpetrator punched the officer’s arm, managed to get free, got into the car and drove off.
The victim didn’t want to cooperate with police and would only say that the perpetrator was her boyfriend, named Kevin. Police later spoke with her grandmother, who gave them the name Kevin Gray.
Gray — who has lived at his East Bradenton home his entire life — said he was never contacted in the nine months between the incident and his arrest in Georgia.
He was arrested on a warrant issued by a judge after the State Attorney’s Office filed formal charges, in response to a capias request from Palmetto police.
On Wednesday, Palmetto police detectives submitted additional reports to better detail how they had came to wrongfully identify Gray as the suspect. Detectives failed to document how they identified Gray in their reports and the attempts detectives say they made to find and speak with him.
As a result, Palmetto Chief of Police Scott Tyler was unable to determine where the mistake occurred until he had the lead detective walk him through their investigation.
Tyler learned that the detective left a lot out of his report because the grandmother asked not to be involved and he was trying to respect her wishes. In the latest supplemental report, the detective detailed how the grandmother had gone to the Walmart with her granddaughter and granddaughter’s boyfriend, but was on the other side of the side when the alleged battery occurred.
After Gray was identified by the grandmother, police showed her a photo lineup and she identified his photo also. The officer who was battered in the case, was also shown the photo lineup and selected Gray.
There had been a second incident involving the same alleged victim later in January, where the victim again named a “Kevin.” In that case an officer had spoken someone who said he was “Kevin Johnson” and gave a Tampa address and phone number. Detectives in the original case say they attempted to find Gray using that contact information, according to the supplemental, but the address led to a shopping center and the phone number didn’t have voicemail setup.
Tyler says that detectives claim to have made additional efforts but kept no documentation to prove when and where they looked for him.
Gray said he immediately recognized the perpetrator in the colored surveillance photo, from their time together in school and knew who the alleged was because it was his ex-girlfriend’s cousin. That led him to call his ex-girlfriend, and was able to provide police with his name, Jarred Ikee Harrington.
Tyler says they are now investigating the case further and that Harrington is a suspect. But because of one misidentification in the case already, they want to be sure before filing charges. Police are also looking into whether or not there is any proof that the alleged victim may have intentionally lied to police to deflect suspicion from her boyfriend, and if there is enough proof to warrant charges.
“We are extremely sorry that this guy got picked up and spent 10 days in jail,” Tyler said. “At the same time, I think the detective was reasonable and the investigation was reasonable.”
No one will be disciplined, as a result, but Tyler is implementing two procedural changes, he said on Friday. The first will require officers to be more detailed in their reports, including documenting how they identified a suspect. The second change will require officers to document any attempts to find a suspect before sending a capias request to the State Attorney’s Office.
Gray was unable to go work at his job at the Langdon Hall Assisted & Independent Living Facility because his arrest led the facility to pull his licenses. As a result, the State Attorney’s Office wrote a letter in which it says Gray, “was unintentionally misidentified as the perpetrator of a crime which, the evidence has since demonstrated he did not commit.”
But Gray doesn’t feel apologies are enough for what he went through, and questions the detectives’ work since they could not easily find him. But there was no anger evident as Gray told his story, his 18-month-old daughter, Jahlani Gray, and he smiling at one another.
“They gave me 10 days to cry about it,” Gray said smiling as he held his daughter outside his Bradenton home on Thursday. “Now I’m back with her.”