In a police state, what happened to Eric Mack between Jan. 6 and Jan. 17 might be considered routine. But what happened, happened here. His treatment at the hands of the Richmond and Henrico County courts systems may be more akin to what's typically reserved for "enemy combatants" held in off-shore military jails.
Mack was arrested for a misdemeanor Saturday, Jan. 6, held without bond and at times held without charge. What ended up as a nearly two-week ordeal began with police misidentifying him as a man accused of beating his ex-girlfriend.
It all started after Mack's ex-girlfriend, Tiffiny Monique Bogle, swore out a warrant against Eric Sherrod Williams, her previous boyfriend and father of her child. On the warrant, the girlfriend listed Williams' address, weight, age, date of birth and Social Security number.
Later, angry with Mack, Bogle fingered him to police who were responding to a 911 call Mack made during a domestic dispute with Bogle, Mack says. Bogle denies misidentifying Mack as Williams to police, but a report filed by Richmond Police Officer S.D. Slavey says Bogle "advised me that the suspect also uses the names of Sherrod Williams and Eric Mack."
So police picked up Mack, taking him before an unsympathetic Richmond magistrate where they identified him as Williams.
Mack protested the false identification, but the magistrate didn't buy it, he says: "She was just nasty." She refused to believe he wasn't Williams, Mack says, telling him instead that "you baby momma know who her baby daddy is." That was news to Mack, because he had dated Bogle for just six weeks before breaking up days earlier.
"Are you a magistrate or just a ghetto girl?" Mack says he told her, producing a full cadre of identification paperwork, including his driver's license, Social Security card even his ATM card. His vital statistics do not match those listed on the warrant as Williams'.
Mack also produced witnesses sworn Richmond sheriff's deputies who identified him to the magistrate as Mack, not Williams. They even used Mack's fingerprints from a previous felony conviction nearly a decade ago to pull up his information and mug shot, which they laid side-by-side with the information on Williams.
Henrico County Sheriff's Office officials deciphered the error-riddled Richmond documents at the request of Style. They showed that the magistrate, Martesha M. Bishop, decided to show Mack's vital statistics as part of Williams' alias including his Social Security number, birth date, height and weight. In other words, her paperwork showed she surmised that when Williams was using his Mack alias, he transformed from a stocky 5'10" and 180 pounds to a 6'1", 150-pound beanpole.
Mack suddenly faced a host of charges intended for Williams. He was booked by Richmond jailers on charges in Richmond as well as on outstanding warrants against Williams in Henrico that dated to November 2006. Mack says he was given a copy of the Richmond warrant, but was unaware of the Henrico charges until later.
(The Richmond Sheriff's Office did not respond before press time to repeated requests for information on Mack's detention.)
It was off to Richmond City Jail for Mack, a weekend he spent waiting for a bond hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 9. When the hearing rolled around, a judge, flummoxed by the identity question, denied Mack bond. Instead he remanded Mack to jail until Jan. 11, to allow jailers to clear up whom they were holding and why.
Ironically, Mack says, "If I'd said I was Eric Williams, they told me I could have got out." Instead he says he stuck to his guns and his own name despite the consequences.
On Jan. 11, while his supporters showed up at court, Mack's court-appointed attorney, Bryan Block, came ready to defend him. With the aid of Mack's mother, current girlfriend and landlord, he got the judge to grant Mack's bond.
But Mack was not there.
Instead, Richmond Jail officials had transferred him into the custody of Henrico County, where ex-girlfriend Bogle had sworn out more warrants for the still-free Williams.
But Henrico jailers were sufficiently concerned or confused with who their prisoner was, according to jail documents. The prisoner transfer information given to Henrico by Richmond sheriff's deputies revealed more confusion: Mack was identified in nearly all records as Williams, except on one form that gave him credit for time served in Richmond jail, which correctly identified him as Mack.
Henrico officials continued to process Mack as Williams, Mack says: "I'm like, 'I'm Eric Mack, that's my name! That's me.'"
After a brief court appearance in Henrico on Jan. 11, Mack returned to Richmond jail, where Block renewed efforts to have him released. Block was rebuffed and told simply that there was a verbal order from a Henrico judge to hold Mack.
No such order appears in the Henrico County Sheriff's files viewed by Style. Block says he was shown a Richmond Sheriff's Office logbook indicating Mack should be held.
"The judge should have said, 'I'll give you 24 hours after that you just have to let him go,'" Block says of Mack's first court appearance.
Enter Martin Luther King Jr. Mack languished during the long four-day holiday weekend, despite the Richmond judge's order to free him.
It wasn't until Jan. 16 that a Henrico Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judge found Mack standing before him, his identity still uncertain. Deputies holding him were still unable to positively identify him as their man, Eric Williams.
The judge finally let Mack go. Total time in jail: 11 days.
"The next step is what? Guantanamo Bay?" Mack says of the experience, which saw him held nearly the entire length of his stay in Richmond jail's intake section, where hundreds of inmates share a handful of toilets and windows are painted to block out the sun.
"Apparently in America today you can be held indefinitely, without charge," Block says.
Most certainly, agrees Richmond attorney Steven D. Benjamin, who has made a national name as a criminal-defense lawyer fighting hard-luck cases.
"What it illustrates are two things," Benjamin says: "First, why you have to be very careful who you go out with," referring to Mack's choice in women. "The second is, yes, the system can be just this unresponsive."
What happened to Mack is not right, Benjamin says, "But it's a reality."
Block says he's still stunned by what he witnessed while trying to free Mack. He's exploring Mack's legal options since being marooned in jail, including a possible lawsuit or complaint filings against the jailers and judges that held him.
But Block says he's surprised by the lack of enthusiasm he's received from local civil rights groups. He says the Richmond office of the American Civil Liberties Union told him they were more interested in civil-rights cases. "But if this isn't a civil-rights case," Block says, "I don't know what is."
Despite Block's desire to seek justice, there likely will be no consequences for the judges or magistrates involved, Benjamin predicts.
"On its very best day, [the criminal justice system] is a blunt instrument, just as likely to club the innocent as the guilty," Benjamin says. "No one should doubt that this could happen to anyone." S