LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — A series of mistakes by Michigan State Police landed the wrong man in jail for child pornography. But while an assistant attorney general on Tuesday admitted police were wrong, he said they were innocent mistakes.
Billy Dean Rowe, a married father of four without a criminal record, was in jail for three days before police realized their mistake. Rowe, of Homer in Calhoun County, is now suing the state. On Tuesday, lawyers on both sides argued before the state Court of Appeals whether the troopers involved in the case were protected by governmental immunity.
“The facts are not in dispute. The wrong individual was identified,” Assistant Attorney General Dana Wood told the court. “It was a mistake, but it was an honest and reasonable mistake. It was not careless or malicious in any way. He (an MSP trooper) had no intent to identify the wrong person in his report.”
The attorney for the wrongfully accused Rowe said the mistakes led police to arrest him at his Calhoun County home in March 2011 in front of his wife.
“Being told that your husband is being charged with child pornography and he’s taken away and she doesn’t see him again for four days,” Rowe’s attorney, Kenneth McIntyre, said.
The case actually started in March 2005 when MSP Trooper Dennis Milburn questioned Billy Joe Rowe about child porn found on his computer near Flint. But the trooper’s original report misidentified the suspect as Billy Dean Rowe, who has a different middle name, is nine years older, lived 120 miles away and has a vastly different build.
“The man’s got no record,” McIntyre said after the hearing. “He’d never been to Flint, ever.”
It wasn’t until 2011 that state police pursued the case, just before the statute of limitations ran out. MSP Detective Sgt. Ronald Ainslie arrested the wrong Rowe using the original mistaken report.
After the wrong Rowe spent three days at the Calhoun County Jail, a trooper drove him 110 miles to Flint, where he was locked in a holding cell until the mistake was caught. By that time, the statute of limitations had expired and the real suspect was never charged.
Rowe’s attorney called it sloppy police work.
“Sloppy is generous,” he added. “They were wantonly indifferent to that which was there to be seen.”
The Court of Appeals isn’t expected to issue a ruling for at least a month.