A Black man is accusing two police departments in Nevada of confusing him with a white ex-felon with a similar name who is more than twice his age, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging wrongful arrest and negligence.
The man, Shane Lee Brown, now 25, alleges that Henderson and Las Vegas police detained him for nearly a week after they confused him with another Shane Brown, now 51, after Henderson police pulled over the younger Brown on Jan. 8, 2020.
Brown’s lawsuit, which was filed Jan. 7, says the mixup began after the traffic stop, in which he failed to provide a driver's license, prompting his arrest.
“SHANE LEE BROWN established his identity by providing his name, social security number, and social security card to the officer. While performing a records check, the unknown HPD Officers confused SHANE LEE Brown … with a different Shane Brown, a 49-year-old white man, who was the subject of an outstanding felony bench warrant for ownership or possession of firearm by prohibited person,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit describes Shane Neal Brown as 5-feet-11 with brown hair, blue eyes and a bushy white beard, and it says he had been convicted of a felony in 1994.
Shane Lee Brown, however, stands 5-feet-7 and was not born yet when the other Shane Brown was convicted, the lawsuit says.
The younger Brown was held in the Henderson Detention Center from Jan. 8 to Jan. 10, 2020. He was then transported to the Clark County Detention Center after a bench warrant issued by Las Vegas police certified that “Shane Brown” was the man wanted on the felony warrant, the lawsuit said.
A judge authorized Shane Lee Brown’s release on Jan. 14, 2020, after having been informed of his identity by public defender Shannon L. Phenix, the lawsuit says.
"Ms. Phenix confirmed SHANE LEE BROWN’s identity to the Court by comparing the mug shot of 49-year-old ‘Shane Brown’ with the mug shot taken of SHANE LEE BROWN," it says.
Shane Lee Brown repeatedly told Henderson and Las Vegas police officers and their supervisors that he was not the older, white Shane Brown who was wanted on the felony warrant, the lawsuit says.
In addition to the two police departments, the suit names Sheriff Joseph Lombardo, the head of the Las Vegas police; Henderson Police Chief Thedrick Andres; and the city of Henderson as defendants.
A spokesperson for Las Vegas police declined to comment on behalf of the department and Lombardo on Monday, citing “pending litigation.”
Kathleen Richards, a spokesperson for the city of Henderson, said Brown was arrested lawfully in an email statement sent Monday on behalf of the city, its police chief and the department.
“During a routine traffic stop for driving an unregistered vehicle, Shane Brown was correctly arrested by Henderson Police for driving with a suspended license and for a contempt of court, failure to pay warrant issued by Henderson Municipal Court. Mr. Brown admitted to the arresting officers that he knew his driver license was suspended and that he had traffic warrants in Henderson,” the statement said.
“The plaintiff in this lawsuit has not presented all the facts and circumstances behind his lawful and proper arrest by Henderson Police, which will be further addressed in the City Attorney’s response to the court,” it said.
Shane Lee Brown’s attorney, E. Brent Bryson, said Monday that on the day his client was pulled over, Brown had spoken to police about his outstanding traffic violations, told him he had an upcoming court date to address them, and police were going to let him go.
But then Henderson police suspected he was the Shane Brown wanted on a felony arrest warrant, he said.
"They are not being sued because they arrested him for traffic [violations]. They are being sued because they held him wrongfully and then was transported for a felony warrant which wasn't him," Bryson said.
According to court records, eight days after Shane Lee Brown was released from jail, the San Bernardino County, California, Sheriff’s Office contacted Las Vegas police to inform them that the older Shane Brown was in jail in Needles, California, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
It was unclear whether that Shane Brown was in custody when the younger Brown was arrested, the Review-Journal reported.
Records show that Shane Neal Brown accepted a plea deal and was sentenced in February 2020 to up to six years in prison with credit for time served.
Shane Lee Brown was not charged with a crime. According to his lawsuit, he seeks a jury trial and more than $500,000 in compensatory damages.