GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A Grand Rapids man is trying to take his case to the Supreme Court after he says he was wrongfully identified by police and beaten unconscious while walking to work in 2014.
He later filed a lawsuit against the officers and has been in a legal battle ever since.
Mistaken identity turned brutal beating, is what James King claims happened to him at the hands of a joint state and federal fugitive task force in Grand Rapids.
Six years later, he’s hoping the supreme court changes the law that his lawyer believes is a loophole for holding joint task force officers accountable.
“The emotional toll that this took on me is something that’s ongoing and something I'm still dealing with,” James King said.
King spoke with FOX 17 at his Grand Rapids home Monday evening, nearly 6 years after an incident that changed his life.
King, a then 21 year-old Grand Valley student says he was walking down Leonard Street when he was stopped by two men, who asked for his name.
“The first guy asked me is that my real name. I said yeah that’s my real name and the other guy asked something to the effect of what’s in your back pocket? And I was like my wallet and he then reached in and then took it out of my pants and that’s when I realized I was being mugged,” King recalled.
“I remember yelling ‘Are you guys mugging me?’ And then the first gentlemen pushed me up against the side of the van and that is when I ran,’ King added. “I went to go run and then I was tackled and ultimately beaten.
Bystanders caught the aftermath on video and called 911.
“James had no idea at the time but [the men] turned out to be members of a fugitive task force that was operating in the area, one of them was an FBI agent the other was a local police detective,” said Patrick Jaicomo, King’s Lawyer and Attorney with the Institute for Justice.
King was taken to the hospital where he was later arrested, his booking photo shows his face bruised and severely swollen.
In a lawsuit filed in 2016, lawyers say the two plain-clothed officers were looking for a fugitive but mistakenly stopped King, who ended up facing three felony charges after the incident, for assaulting the officers and resisting arrest.
“I expected them to be arrested and instead I was and that added to the confusion and chaos of the whole situation,” King explained.
King’s criminal case went to trial after he declined a plea deal, and he was acquitted on all charges.
He then filed a civil lawsuit against the officers.
“After James was acquitted, we filed a lawsuit in 2016 against the officers who unconstitutionally stopped, searched and beat him. Ever since then it’s been a battle over different technicalities that have prevented the officers from actually getting inside a courtroom,” Jaicomo said.
Jaicomo says a legal doctrine called “qualified immunity” has been at the center of this lengthy legal battle.
“What the officers essentially claimed, ‘yes even if we violated Mr. Kings rights, we can’t be held accountable under their doctrine that the Supreme Court created in 1982 because there wasn’t a specific case on point that mirrored the exact factual situation with the case we have with James, so we didn’t have fair warning,” Jaicomo said.
Jaicomo says the officers who were a part of a joint state-federal fugitive task force are also using that to their legal advantage.
“The concept of joint state-federal police task force is relatively new. The unique thing about these task forces is because they straddle state and federal authority, they essentially get to shift their accountability and the laws that applies to them depending on which is more beneficial,” he explained.
King and his attorney are hoping the Supreme Court hears their case and creates a new precedence under which, joint task force officers can be held accountable.
“I really hope that qualified immunity is overturned completely or revamped so that these kinds of things won’t continue to happen without any accountability,” King said.
“The simple fact is that the majority of the time this situation happens to anyone they have no recourse. Either they accept a plea deal because they don’t have the money to afford attorneys, or they’re scared, or they’re jailed, or are killed and in any of those cases there are no recourse.” King explained.
“As crazy as this sounds, I’m lucky because they didn’t shoot me and I’m not in prison right now,” he added.
King’s lawyer says the Supreme Court will likely make a determination on whether to preside over the case at the end of next month.
As for the suspect police were looking for, he was eventually found and sentenced for home invasion in 2015.