Imagine you’re at home eating lunch with your children while waiting for Grandpa to arrive when one of the kids looks out the window and tells you that instead of Grandpa, the police are in the front yard. That’s what happened to a family in Massillon, Ohio, in a case of mistaken identity by the U.S. Marshals Service. The Canton Repository reports:
The kids ran to the window overlooking the front yard, expecting to see their grandfather walking up from the driveway. Instead, they saw armed deputies from the U.S. Marshals Service staggered through the yard.
The children noticed one federal agent near a tree in the backyard and another behind a neighbor’s shed — eight in all. Plus, said [Lynette] Roberts, there were more officers from the Massillon Police Department.
What was going on?
When Roberts’ 10-year-old daughter told her the police were outside, Roberts thought she was joking.
“What are you guys talking about? Stop playing,” Roberts recalled saying.
Curious, she opened the door. Her heart pounded as she reacted to the sight, sliding against the wall, unsure of what was happening.
Roberts looked left, then right, taking in the scene of uniformed men with weapons drawn. Her Terry Avenue NE residence — in a quiet neighborhood of modest, single-family homes and tree-lined streets — was surrounded.
The federal investigators and local officers were looking for a man named David Roberts, believing he was hiding a fugitive from Toledo. The suspect had failed to appear in court and was wanted for marijuana and psychedelic mushroom trafficking.
Unfortunately, agents had zeroed in on the wrong David Roberts. According to Anne Murphy, a deputy marshal, the agency had received a “very credible” tip that a David Roberts was harboring a fugitive, but they had confused Roberts with another man with the same name.
Murphy explained that when a tip is received, it is standard procedure for her agency to conduct an investigation, which includes looking into records such as Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles registration and criminal history. The investigation typically includes an in-person interview, which is why agents showed up at the Roberts home that day.
“We get tips from all kinds of people all across the country,” Murphy said. “It’s our job to follow up on those tips, and that’s exactly what Deputy Middock and his team did. They followed up, and they started with an interview.”
An interview that involved eight federal agents —with weapons drawn — plus additional officers from the local police department.
Lynette Roberts was terrified by the whole ordeal, describing it with tears in her eyes. “They really thought that their witness, their tip was more credible than my words,” Roberts said. “I answered their questions, but I still tried to let them know that this wasn’t right.” She felt that agents presumed she was guilty, questioning her about the contents of packages being brought to the house. The Roberts home was not searched, however, and no arrests were made.
Lynette’s husband, David Roberts, the subject of the mistaken identity, faults poor investigative work. “If they would have simply done their job, they would have known it was not me,” Roberts said. “When I had time to think about it, I was like, ‘Wait a minute. They didn’t do their job.’ That’s why I’m upset.”
He may be right:
When law enforcement came back to the Robertses’ home for a second interview, David Roberts made a couple of phone calls and found the location of the suspect David Roberts, who lived above a former brother-in-law’s apartment in southeast Massillon. Federal officers arrested the fugitive and David Roberts, the suspect, within the hour. [Emphasis added]
“We’re good people,” David Roberts said. “We try to do the right thing. I think I’m upset because it was guilt until proven innocent. What I said wasn’t really listened to. They did not believe me, (and were) unwilling to receive a no.” He said his wife was traumatized and is terrified to stay in their house now.
Murphy defended the
raid interview, explaining, “We want people to understand what we do, and that our jobs are dangerous, and they’re dangerous every day,” Murphy said. “Sometimes people don’t understand why eight guys show up at their house, but it’s for our safety and their safety.
Fair enough. These folks have incredibly dangerous jobs and they have every right to take precautions to protect themselves if the situation warrants it. But if this report is true, this whole ordeal could have been avoided with a couple of phone calls. That’s inexcusable.