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Palm Coast Man Falsely Arrested Sues Sheriff, Saying Deputies “Did Not Act Reasonably”

| December 19, 2016

Palm Coast Precinct Cmdr. Mark Carman, right, speaks with deputy James Gore at the scene of a 2013 wreck involving Gore and a Palm Coast driver. Gore was found to have been careless in a case that led to the false arrest of a 19-year-old Bunnell man earlier this year. (© FlaglerLive)

Palm Coast Precinct Cmdr. Mark Carman, right, speaks with deputy James Gore at the scene of a 2013 wreck involving Gore and a Palm Coast driver. Gore was found to have been careless in a case that led to the false arrest of a 19-year-old Bunnell man earlier this year. (© FlaglerLive)

Dakota Ward, the 19-year-old Bunnell man falsely arrested in March when his name was confused with that of another with similar but not identical spelling, is suing the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office for more than $15,000. The lawsuit lands on Sheriff Jim Manfre’s desk as he prepares to leave office in less than two weeks, making it what will likely be the newest lawsuit Sheriff-Elect Rick Staly will inherit.

The lawsuit is not a surprise. The Sheriff’s Office got notice on April 11 that it would be forthcoming.

Ward was mistaken for a man a year older, who spells his first name as “Decoda,” who looks significantly different, and with whom the younger Ward has been mistaken for many years, going back to their days in school together. But the March incident was the first time Dakota Ward was arrested by mistake.

Decoda Ward at the time was facing a battery charge and had not shown up in court. A failure-to-appear charge was levied against him, but went to Dakota instead. Deputies showed up to arrest him. He protested. He was arrested anyway. The sheriff’s office would later state in a press release that Ward at the time of his arrest at no time told the arresting deputy “that there might be confusion with De’Coda Ward.” But the victim of the false arrest also said he was being compliant with police, as he had been taught to be, and as police demand when arresting an individual. Resistance can lead to additional charges, such as resisting arrest.

Ward, the complaint states, “was arrested, fingerprinted, had his mug shot taken, and was booked into the Flagler County Inmate Facility against his will with no probable cause.”

Two days after his arrest Liz Williams, a Flagler Beach Police detective and a friend of Ward’s family informed the State Attorney’s office that Ward had been falsely arrested.

Ward’s family retained Josh Davis, the Palm Coast attorney and former assistant state prosecutor, as his lawyer. Davis quickly established with ready records that there’d been a mistake, and that the mistake could have been easily stopped had the deputy involved in the original filing of a charging affidavit against De’Coda Ward properly followed procedures.

Dakota Ward’s arrest, the complaint alleges, “was not reasonable. Flagler County Sheriff’s Office Deputies failed to confirm the identity of [Dakota Ward] by ignoring the description, correct spelling of the suspect’s name, and the address listed for the suspect contained within the original complaint.”

The deputy who had filed the original battery affidavit against De’Coda Ward in December 2015, James Gore, became the subject of an internal affairs investigation was eventually suspended three days without pay and reprimanded for an “unsatisfactory or incompetent performance.” He had been provided De’Coda’s name in the December incident in its correct spelling, but had written it down incorrectly, and followed up by entering Dakota Ward’s name in a police database, thus starting the sequence of events that led to Ward’s false arrest.

The Sheriff’s Office issued an official apology to Ward on April 1, signed by Manfre, who altered some procedures to ensure that mis-identification of individuals doesn’t happen again. The charge against Dakota Ward was dropped and his record scrubbed from the jail’s website, and eventually removed from the court’s website.

De’Coda Ward, meanwhile, was eventually arrested on the battery charge, pleaded guilty in July and sentenced to probation, which he violated when, in September, he was re-arrested on a battery charge and possession of drug paraphernalia. The arresting deputy was Rich Petkovsek, the same deputy who had carried out what turned out to be Dakota Ward’s false arrest (Petkovsek was merely serving the warrant and had no responsibility for the errors that had led to the wrong Ward.) De’Coda Ward was found guilty on both the battery and drug charge and served two months in jail.

Gore is the subject of another ongoing lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office. It was filed in June by the victim of a car crash with Gore, who was at the wheel of a patrol car in 2013.

But Gore was also the recipient last week of a Sheriff’s Office Lifesaving Award as a result of valorous acts on Sept. 9, when he responded to an incident on Old Dixie Highway and performed CPR on a man who was possibly having a cardiac episode. The man’s family wrote the sheriff’s office to thank Gore for his intervention. The man recovered.

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8 Responses for “Palm Coast Man Falsely Arrested Sues Sheriff, Saying Deputies “Did Not Act Reasonably””

  1. The Geode says:

    Often I read about BLACK MEN who was not only arrested – but SENT TO PRISON for months, years and decades only get a “Thank you, have a nice day” or “Oops, my bad”. This dude only gets arrested and booked and most likely get paid handsomely for it.

  2. JasonB says:

    Good for him, should have sued for a million dollars, and I hope he demands they remove his fingerprints and mugshot from their database.

  3. Flagler County is depraved says:

    They should have looked up his Social Security Number. That simple.

  4. Old Lady says:

    Better check twice, save a life or a lawsuit

  5. SneakyPete says:

    He isn’t suing to get rich like most people do in these kinds of situations. Mr. Ward is simply going for compensation to clear his good name. And it sounds like it’s going to cost at least 15K in legal fees to make that happen. So, in my opinion this kid is being very modest with the lawsuit amount. Just think, if he doesn’t get this cleared up then a department mistake could cost him his future.

  6. Concerned Citizen says:

    @ The Geode

    Skin color irregardless if you were falsely arrested and knew it was going to ruin your life would you not fight to clear your name? That is what Dakota Ward and his family are doing here.

    If you had read the article thoroughly they are mostly asking to c over legal fees and to have his arrest expunged so that it doesn’t affect his future career. Although he will still have to say yes on job applications to being arrested.

    The entire Flagler County Sheriff’s Office from Deputy Gore to the Sheriff is responsible for this one. Gross negligence all the way around. And it sounds like to me Gore is a loose cannon and doesn’t need to be wearing a badge.

    Commendation or not false arrest improper investigation and a wreck hurting someone are no minor offenses

    While we point fingers though those in the chain of command are responsible as well for poor supervision and lack of training apparently.

  7. Katie Semore says:

    Concerned citizen, there is no such word as, irregardless. If so. It would change regardless back to not regardless and that isn’t what people intend when they mistakenly use it.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Sheriff Manre is to blame, he should hire qualified trained deputies—and not kids. It is disturbing to see so many kids in patrol cars in Flagler County. Manfre should be held personally liable. There is no excuse for something like this.

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