CHICAGO - Chicago man says he has been detained by law enforcement more than 60 times over 15 years because he has the same name and birth date of a man wanted on an apparent traffic violation.
Darren Cole says he wants the fear he lives with to end and has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to stop what he contends is the often aggressive and threatening manner that comes with his dealings with Chicago police.
The Chicago Tribune reports that the lawsuit filed this past week against the city of Chicago claims the stops of Cole, 50, started in 2006 and continue despite his efforts to get several police agencies to correct the problem.
Cole’s count of 60 stops was compiled through interviews he had with his attorneys and documents prepared by police officers.
"Whether it is 60 or 40 or 20 (stops), the reality is he is living under the constant threat of the police," Sheila Bedi, the director of the Community Justice and Civil Rights Clinic at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, told the Tribune.
After his first detention, Cole went to Chicago police’s Harrison District to inquire about fixing the situation. In the lawsuit, he claims officers told him there was nothing they could do and advised him to always carry his driver’s license, car insurance and Social Security card to prove his identity.
In 2014, an attorney secured a letter from southern Illinois’ Marion County stating he is not the Darren Cole wanted by police. And in 2018, a Harrison District sergeant gave him a handwritten note with his personal contact information. But the stops continued, with the last documented in the lawsuit occurring on Dec. 7, when Cole was detained for a malfunctioning brake light.
Cole told the Tribune he is often reduced to using public transportation. The fear of being stopped by police while driving has damaged his relationships with his family. He was unable to visit his father on his deathbed and is refraining from visiting his elderly mother, his lawyers contend.
Cole says he now drives family members’ cars to reduce the stops, and he has a self-imposed curfew of 5 p.m. to avoid winding up in traffic checkpoints.
"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 said. "It hurts so bad to talk about it now. Used to (be), I couldn’t talk about it. My voice is shivery right now."
The lawsuit alleges the stops of Cole violate his constitutional rights and also resulted in him being verbally and physically assaulted by Chicago police officers. It claims he’s been punched in the face, handcuffed, forced against the hood of police squad cars and had guns pointed at him.
A spokeswoman for Chicago’s Law Department says the lawsuit will be reviewed and there won’t be an immediate comment.