NH Supreme Court rules man can sue Manchester police
CONCORD - A city man who says he was falsely arrested for kidnapping and jailed for 17 months before prosecutors dropped the case, will be able to pursue his lawsuit against Manchester police.
The state Supreme Court, in a ruling made public Wednesday, dismissed Osahenrumwen Ojo's claim of malicious prosecution but said the lawsuit could proceed on his claims that he was falsely arrested and wrongly confined. The court rejected the police department's argument that they were entitled to immunity from being sued based just on the facts Ojo gave in his lawsuit.
"Because we must accept as true that (Officer Joseph C.) Lorenzo arrested the plaintiff despite substantial inconsistencies between his physical appearance on the morning of his arrest and the alleged kidnapping victim's description of the assailant, including inconsistencies in age, hairstyle and facial hair," the court concluded police did not establish that Lorenzo had probable cause to arrest Ojo or that the arrest was not "made in a wanton or reckless manner."
The case was remanded back to Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Kenneth C. Brown, who had dismissed the lawsuit after finding in favor of Manchester police on the immunity issue.
Ojo, who the New Hampshire Union Leader was unable to reach for comment, represented himself in the lawsuit.
Attorney Robert J. Meagher, who represented police, said he filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit as a matter of law. He has yet to decide if he will ask the court to reconsider its ruling, but if he doesn't, the lawsuit will continue in the trial court.
Ojo sat in the Valley Street jail for 17 months, accused of kidnapping a woman at gunpoint about 12:30 a.m. on May 9, 2010. Prosecutors dropped all charges in October 2011 because the alleged victim had moved to Germany and did not want to return for trial.
Ojo filed suit, saying Manchester police had falsely arrested him.
"I was in the wrong place at the wrong time," he told the New Hampshire Union Leader in December 2011.
He was arrested within minutes of the woman escaping her abductor. He was about a half-mile from where the woman flagged down a motorist on Hooksett Road and asked for help.
Ojo was accused of jumping into the back seat of the woman's car, as she was stopped at a red light at West Merrimack Street, and ordering her at gunpoint to drive toward Hooksett.
The woman told police her abductor told her to drive into the rear parking lot of the U-Haul Truck Sales Super Store of Manchester at 443 Hooksett Road and shut off the ignition. The woman escaped after fighting off her abductor and running toward Hooksett Road, where she flagged down a passing motorist who called police. The kidnapper fled from the scene.
Officer Joseph C. Lorenzo stopped Ojo as he was walking near Tufts and Hall streets, put him up against his cruiser and questioned where he was coming from and where he was going. Ojo told him he left his brother's apartment a couple of hours earlier after having an argument with him. He said he wanted to avoid "unnecessary problems."
Ojo was arrested and, when he asked why, an unidentified officer said a kidnapping victim had identified him from a photographic lineup and that he matched the victim's description of the assailant, according to court documents. She described her captor as a black man in his early 20s, 5-foot-10 or 5-foot-11, with short dark hair and a beard.
Police later found a black and silver toy gun, fitting the description given by the woman, in grass on the same block where Ojo was stopped, according to court documents.
Ojo, at the time of the incident, was 33 years old, bald and clean-shaven. He also has visible scars on both cheeks which the alleged victim never mentioned.
A district court judge found probable cause to arrest Ojo, and a grand jury indicted him on the felony charge and two other offenses.
Ojo filed suit against Manchester police and Lorenzo, saying they did not fully investigate the case before arresting him and had used unnecessarily suggestive, unreliable and untrustworthy identification procedures when they later presented a photo lineup to the alleged victim.
Police said the woman identified Ojo as her attacker from the photo array.
Ojo also filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Hillsborough County House of Corrections (the Valley Street jail) alleging three guards sexually assaulted him in separate incidents in the summer of 2011 when they grabbed his testicles and/or penis during pat-downs.