Man jailed by mistake sues county

A criminal stole Christopher Ryman’s name. Then the people who maintain law and order in Snohomish County took his peace of mind.

The Marysville man this week headed to court to try to win back some of what he lost.

Ryman, 35, on Monday filed a lawsuit against Snohomish County alleging that he was unlawfully imprisoned for two days in June 2002.

It’s a case of mistaken identity that never should have happened, maintain Ryman and his attorney, Brian Phillips of Everett.

“You can’t even imagine what this has done to me and my family,” Ryman said. “I have no confidence in Snohomish County whatsoever.”

The lawsuit seeks damages for negligence, claiming that a sheriff’s deputy and corrections officers at the county jail in Everett ignored evidence that a crook for years had been using Ryman’s identity as an alias. The truck driver and father of six was arrested when a computer check during a routine traffic stop turned up arrest warrants issued in his name.

Ryman wound up behind bars even though he was carrying a letter from an Eastern Washington prosecutor explaining that his name was being used as an alias by another man with a history of drug and traffic offenses.

Ryman obtained the letter after close calls elsewhere in 1997 and 2001. In each case, he was detained for a couple of hours but was released after police determined he wasn’t the person sought on the warrant.

In his letter, the prosecutor suggested that Ryman “carry this letter with you for the purpose of identification to advise law enforcement that your name is indeed being used as a stolen alias,” Phillips said in court papers.

Ryman had the letter in his wallet, but the Snohomish County deputy who placed Ryman under arrest refused to look at the letter, according to court papers.

Jail officials did read the letter, but told Ryman they didn’t have authority to release him, Phillips said. He was set free the next day after being moved to a jail in King County, where officials checked his fingerprints and confirmed that he wasn’t the man sought on the warrants.

Ryman said he lost a $20-an-hour trucking job because of the arrest. He also lost his faith in law enforcement.

Ryman last year went to court and convinced a judge to legally change his first name, which enabled him to get a new Social Security number. He no longer is known by the identity that was connected to his arrests. He asked that his former name not be printed in this story.

The man who took his name is a stranger, and he wants nothing to do with the legal mess that man created, Ryman said.

“That’s what is scary. I don’t know how this individual got my information,” Ryman said. “He’s worked under my name. He’s committed crimes under my name.”

This week’s lawsuit comes after the county did not take action on a $70,000 claim for damages Ryman filed earlier this year. County officials have discussed settling the case, but no agreement has been struck, deputy prosecutor Michael Held said.

“I think the spirit of working toward a resolution exists,” he said.

Held said he was unaware of any changes in policy or procedure governing arrests in the county, but added that “the wisdom of such changes are being explored.”

Susan Neely, who oversees criminal justice matters for County Executive Aaron Reardon, said county officials are aware that steps to prevent similar mistakes need to be taken, but said she couldn’t discuss details.

Ryman was pleased to hear that changes may be coming. All he initially wanted was for the sheriff’s office to pay the impound fees on his pickup truck.

“All they had to do was give me my $369. They didn’t even need to say they were sorry,” he said.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Jan Jorgensen declined to discuss the case because the lawsuit is pending.

Reporter Scott North: 425-339-3431 or north@heraldnet.com.

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