Local NFL player Nate Allen was detained for several hours last week, and it was falsely alleged that he had improperly exposed himself driving down US 41. Fortunately, the Fort Myers Police Department figured out that they had a problem, and released Allen before filing charges. Yesterday the State Attorney’s office announced that their review of the evidence shows unequivocally that Mr. Allen did nothing wrong. But that wasn’t until long after he had been held nearly 5 hours, and the press had picked up the story and his image tarnished. Apparently, the girl or girls who made the allegation described a similar vehicle to Allen’s. He says that the initial description was of a middle-aged man with long curly hair, which is not Mr. Allen. How does this happen? How does 27-year-old, short-haired Mr. Allen get misidentified as a middle-aged, long haired man? The most likely culprit is an unduly suggestive identification by law enforcement.
Mr. Allen gave an extensive interview with the Fort Myers New-Press, which they have helpfully posted online, in full. We don’t have the police reports yet, but it appears from Mr. Allen’s account, that while he was detained on the side of the road, the police brought the accuser by in the back of a patrol vehicle, and he was apparently identified. The mis-identification almost certainly stemmed from this improper identification procedure by the Fort Myers Police Department. Such a procedure is wildly suggestive, and is disfavored for law enforcement. Any time a one-person show up is utilized for identification purposes, the procedure is inherently suggestive and carries the risk of tainting any identification. For this reason, one-person show ups are disfavored by Florida courts. The circumstances around this show up were particularly suggestive, as he was being held in custody, next to his truck, at the time it appears he was ID’d. Time and again the courts have discouraged law enforcement from doing this type of identification, but here we are, falsely accusing a local hero. It’s well known that eyewitness testimony is among the most unreliable to rely upon in court. Eyewitnesses are even less reliable when law enforcement utilizes inherently suggestive procedures to obtain their testimony or identifications. Clearly, the courts need to continue to discourage these improper techniques, to throw out testimony that is improperly obtained, and our law enforcement must better train its officers. Thank goodness they did their due diligence, and Mr. Allen was exonerated by phone records and surveillance video before they formally pressed charges. The fix is simple, identification needs to be done via lineup, preferably double-blind. This can be easily accomplished with modern technology and a photo lineup (called a six-pack). I am encouraged that FMPD has indicated they are going to do a review of their procedures, so hopefully the cops don’t continue to contribute to false identifications.
UPDATE: Allen and his attorney Sawyer Smith held a press conference today, urging police review of the errors that lead to his improper detention.
UPDATE 2: The News-Press article above confirms the unduly suggestive ID procedure by FMPD that I anticipated in my post. Also, the News-Press has updated their coverage with video from the press conference.