Detroit police mistake leads to wrongful arrest, lawsuit

(WXYZ) - Imagine being handcuffed and arrested at gun point as your family watches in horror, knowing you did nothing wrong.

And even though witnesses tell police they have the wrong guy, the nightmare just gets worse. This is what happened to a St. Clair Shores' man, but it will be Detroit's tax payers who may pick up his legal bills.

Gerald Wilcox has never been in trouble with the law. So the retired father of three was stunned last January when Detroit police stormed his St. Clair Shores home and put him behind bars.

"My wife was hysterical," Wilcox told 7 Action News. "My son was trying to calm my wife down, but uh, she was still very hysterical."

It was January 31 when Gerald Wilcox, his wife Alecia and their 15-year-old son Gerald Jr. were at home on Lakebreeze Street in St. Clair Shores when their quiet afternoon was shattered with Detroit police at their door.

Gerald Wilcox Jr. was so close to his Dad when the 43-year-old was arrested, he felt the cops wanted them both.

" It was past terrifying," the young Wilcox said. "It was a gun right in my face….(shakes his head) and it was crazy."

Alecia Wilcox also watched, but wanted answers.

"When I asked questions, they wouldn't give me no answers," she said. "They pulled the gun," Gerald Jr. adds.

"I was right on the couch and my Dad was right next to me…pulled the gun right at me, and said 'sir, you need to come with us.'"

While locked up in a precinct holding cell for two days and nights, Wilcox says police never told him why he was there and didn't let him make a single phone call.

He says he tried to explain they'd made a mistake.

"I was trying to tell everybody that would listen that I was innocent for whatever they were charging me for. I don't care what it was, I didn't do it."

He didn't know the details for several days but on January 30, the day before he was arrested around 6 p.m., an armed man robbed the Family Dollar Store on Schaefer on Detroit's west side.

A witness actually saw the suspect get into a car, he followed him long enough to get the license plate number. That led police to a two story house, less than a mile away, on Ardmore Street.

The woman who answered the door there told police three things; One: She owned the car they were looking for; Two: that her cousin had been driving it; And three: that her licensed handgun was missing.

The woman also told police that her nephew's name is Gerald Wilcox, and that he's 22 to 23 years old.

After arresting Gerald Wilcox in St. Clair Shores, the police came back and showed the cousin a photo of the 43-year-old retiree. She told them that the face in the photo was NOT her missing cousin —who is about 20 years younger.

Wolf Mueller is the attorney who has filed a law suit on Wilcox behalf against the city and the police officers in the case. 

"When his cousin sees a picture of our Gerald Wilcox and says "That's not him." That's a day before Gerald (his client, the wrong man)  is arraigned."

In the lawsuit, Mueller says the police department demonstrated egregious, unlawful misconduct in the case.

In fact, before Wilcox is arraigned, the police also had shown a photo of him to three Family Dollar Store employees. Two of them also said that wasn't the man who robbed them, according to Wilcox's lawsuit.

After 16 days in jail, Judge Shannon Holmes pressed Sgt. Samuel Dunagan, the detective in charge of the robbery case, about what the suspect's cousin had said--that her Gerald Wilcox was around 23.

She quickly reduced Wilcox's $100,000 cash bond to $10,000 personal bond and sent him home without having to put up cash at all.

But his legal troubles didn't end there. For three more weeks, Gerald Wilcox worried that two armed robbery charges could put him behind bars for up to life.

Finally, on March 7, more than a month after the family nightmare began, the judge tossed out the case, but not because the arresting officers disclosed how three witnesses told them they had the wrong guy.

Remember that first witness who chased the suspect from the dollar store—he came forward. He's a retired Detroit Police officer. He told the judge they had the wrong guy.

"Being charged with armed robbery on two counts and just what my family went through? The whole entire humiliation that my family suffered…just seems like we can't get over it," Gerald Wilcox says. "It's destroyed my family, I can say that."

The Detroit Police Department and the officers involved would not comment because of the ongoing litigation.

The prosecutor's office also would not comment. But if the Wilcox's prevail in court, it will be one more bill the broke city of Detroit and it's taxpayers will have to pay out.

And by the way, the other Gerald Wilcox who likely robbed that Family Dollar Store is still on the loose.

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