LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — A Calhoun County man who was wrongfully arrested and jailed on a child pornography charge can sue the Michigan State Police trooper who handled the initial investigation.
The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that Billy Dean Rowe of Homer can continue with his lawsuit against Trooper Dennis Milburn.
The court ruled Milburn is not entitled to immunity because “there are some material facts surrounding Trooper Milburn’s actions in dispute and reasonable minds could differ as to whether his actions were plainly incompetent.”
Milburn was investigating a 2005 case of child porn found on a computer in Mount Morris, near Flint. The computer belonged to Billy Joe Rowe, but the trooper’s original report misidentified the suspect as Billy Dean Rowe, who has a different middle name, is nine years older, lived 120 miles away and has a vastly different build.
It wasn’t until 2011 that state police pursued the case, just before the statute of limitations ran out. MSP Detective Sgt. Ronald Ainslie arrested the wrong Rowe in front of his wife at their Calhoun County home, based on the original mistaken report. Billy Dean Rowe spent three days in jail before police realized their mistake.
Earlier this month, Billy Dean Rowe’s attorney told the appeals court that it was “sloppy” police work. He said his client has no criminal record and has never been to Flint.
The assistant attorney general called the mistakes “honest and reasonable… not careless or malicious,” saying Milburn “had no intent to identify the wrong person in his report.”
Milburn interviewed the correct suspect – Billy Joe Rowe – but said Billy Joe Rowe did not provide him identification, just his first and last name.
Milburn said his search turned up several people with the name Billy Rowe, but none of them lived in Mount Morris, so he used “identifying features” to narrow down his search, which led him to Billy Dean Rowe.
The Court of Appeals agreed with a Calhoun County judge that Ainslie was entitled to immunity and cannot be sued because “the record does not indicate that Detective/Sergeant Ainslie deliberately relied on flawed conclusions by Trooper Milburn or was reckless or grossly negligent in his reliance.”
Either side could appeal the decision, sending the case to the Michigan Supreme Court. Otherwise, the lawsuit will return to Calhoun County Circuit Court.