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Denver Man, Accused of Rape Due to Mishandled DNA, Has Lawsuit Dismissed

by Derek Gilna

Shawnnon Hale, 24, wrongful accused of felony rape and jailed for 61 days, was released from custody in Denver, Colorado in early 2015 when the police crime lab acknowledged it had mislabeled a DNA sample that incorrectly identified him as the perpetrator. As a result of his arrest and incarceration, Hale filed a federal civil rights suit accusing crime lab technicians Eric Duvall and Brian Pirot of “objectively unreasonable” actions.

The complaint claimed that “Defendants Duvall and Pirot engaged in their respective actions and inaction with reckless disregard and/or gross negligence,” which resulted in Hale’s “unreasonable seizure ... causing him to suffer a loss of freedom, loss of income, reputational damage and mental and emotional distress.”

Hale had steadfastly maintained his innocence both before and after his arrest for sexually assaulting a woman who had been at a party he attended in July 2014, stating he never had contact with her. “No, that’s not possible,” he said. Denver police officers had recovered a cigarette butt that allegedly contained his DNA, but it was discovered after his arrest that the DNA sample had been misidentified by the crime lab.

“The Denver Police Department is in the process of a thorough audit to determine how and why this occurred to ensure it does not happen again,” police officials said in a statement.

Hale’s arrest left him and his family emotionally shaken, none more than his grandmother, Juanita Jackson. The incident “made me angry; they were talking about him getting life.... You know that hurt [and] I ain’t been right since,” she stated.

Hale said that after he was arrested and questioned, “I waited until I got back to my cell, and I just broke down and started to cry ... I was thinking I was never going to have children ... I was thinking that my life was over.”

Hale’s lawsuit sought economic, compensatory and punitive damages against the two crime lab technicians who allegedly mishandled the DNA evidence.

On July 27, 2017, however, the district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, finding that “because Plaintiff alleges only that Defendants acted with reckless disregard or gross negligence – and admittedly does not allege any intentional acts or malice – his complaint does not state a claim upon which relief can be granted in that he cannot establish that Defendants violated his constitutional Fourth Amendment right against illegal seizure.”

In other words, Hale’s claims did not rise to the level of constitutional violations and he should have pursued a state court action. Costs were awarded to the defendants. See: Hale v. Duvall, U.S.D.C. (D. Colo.), Case No. 1:16-cv-02962-LTB. 



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Related legal case

Hale v. Duvall