Darren Cole has had numerous encounters with Chicago police over the past 15 years. By his own estimates, he’s been pulled over by Windy City cops between 40 and 60 times since 2006.
During those roadside run-ins, Cole has been punched by officers, berated, handcuffed, rousted against the hoods of squad cars and dragged to the police station numerous times, he says. Police have even drawn their guns on him during stops. But during all those traffic stops, one thing police have never done is charge the 50-year-old Black man.
Cole has had enough and wants to make his frequent brushes with law enforcement stop. In a lawsuit Cole filed against the city of Chicago last week, his attorneys allege that all of his incessant police encounters stem from mistaken identity. Someone with the same name and birthdate was wanted in downstate Illinois and for an open arrest warrant that languished in the Chicago Police Department database for nearly two decades.
“The guy who got the warrant is named Darren H. Cole. My name is Darren Cole. That’s it. No middle name,” Cole told CBS News Chicago on Monday.
Cole pleaded with the department for years to fix the issue so he wouldn’t have to worry about being wrongfully stopped for another man’s warrant. Police failed to do so until Monday, just four days after Cole filed his federal civil rights complaint.
Court records show a judge finally quashed the arrest warrant for the Cole’s doppelganger in Marion County, Illinois.
“I think it is indicative of the Chicago Police Department’s blatant disregard for the safety and security of Black Chicagoans,” said Daniel Massoglia, one of Cole’s attorneys representing him in his lawsuit. “Just trying to get something done beforehand, and just radio silence.”
Cole is seeking monetary damages for the endless string of traffic stops he’s had to endure over the years. One of his demands in his complaint was for the Chicago Police Department to update its database. It was a mistake the department took no time to clear up for about 15 years, even after Cole told city officials what he was going through.
Cole told CBS Chicago he lost jobs, and the ordeal damaged his relationships with family members to the point he considered suicide.
“I felt like I was treated like a dog,” Cole said. “I thought I lost it all, because everybody was telling me ain’t nothing they could do. You know what I’m saying? And so God just told me like this: ‘Don’t give up.’”
He repeatedly asked CPD to update their database to no avail. The Chicago Tribune was first to report on Cole’s federal complaint, which was filed March 25 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
According to the Tribune, the person for whom Cole was mistaken failed to make a court appearance for driving on a suspended license in Marion County — about 250 miles south of Chicago. Authorities issued an arrest warrant for that southern Illinois man, who had the same first and last name, date of birth and nearly an identical license number as Cole.
“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, said in a Tribune interview.
Court records show the real fugitive’s name is “Darren H. Cole,” a 50-year-old Decatur, Illinois man. The suspended license case was opened in 2002 and the warrant for his arrest was originally issued in March 2005.
Police in Chicago didn’t begin stopping the wrong Cole over the open warrant until the spring of 2006, according to his lawsuit. But when they did start, they made his life hell. Cole was detained at police precincts as many as 10 times, mostly at the Harrison District on Chicago’s West Side.
The morning after his first hold, Cole sought to get the snafu resolved. Police told him there was nothing they could do and cautioned him to keep his driver’s license, Social Security card and car insurance papers on him when he drives as a way to prove his true identity.
But in 2008, after the Cook County Sheriff’s Office called about the outstanding warrant, Cole learned from Marion County authorities that the “responsibility fell on CPD to correct the situation,” according to his lawsuit.
The next day, Cook County sheriff’s deputies showed up to Cole’s job and dragged him to a police district where he was held for for six hours.
In 2014, an attorney helped Cole obtain a letter from Marion County officials clarifying that he isn’t the Darren Cole wanted for the open warrant. In 2018, he was able to persuade a sergeant at the Harrison District in Chicago to write up a handwritten note with his personal contact information so Cole could use it when he’s stopped.
The stops happened so regularly, according to the lawsuit, that police at the West Side precinct recognized Cole from previous encounters and often told officers who’d brought him in “He’s not the guy.”
Despite all those efforts, the traffic stops persisted. Dec. 7 was the most recent time police hassled him about the warrant. He was stopped for a malfunctioning brake light and detained. Cole had to call his attorney to secure his release.
The constant threat of being taken into custody had Cole afraid to leave his home and he was living in a “state of perpetual tension,” his lawsuit contends. His children refused to ride with him, and he had to turn to public transit as an alternative way to get around so he could avoid driving. Cole eventually stayed home to avoid the risk of traffic stops and was unable to visit his dying father on his death bed. He said he was so afraid of harassment, he placed himself on a 5 p.m. curfew to avoid police checkpoints.
Cole’s attorneys say CPD could have taken a few easy steps years ago to prevent the lawsuit and the plight Cole had to live with.
“Mr. Cole has pleaded with CPD officials to correct their records to reflect that he is not the Darren Cole with the outstanding warrant,” the lawsuit indicated. “CPD and City officials have ignored Mr. Cole’s pleas and further ignored his counsel’s efforts to resolve this matter without resorting to litigation. The abuse and harassment Mr. Cole experiences at the hands of CPD has had a devastating impact on his personal and professional life and has instilled in him a fear of being harassed whenever he leaves his home — a fear that has only grown during the COVID-19 pandemic.”