Man wrongly arrested for robbery because he was Facebook friends with other suspects sues Linn County

Jerry Vander Sanden (left) being sworn in at the start of his second term as Linn County Attorney in 2015. — photo courtesy of Linn County

On Wednesday, Joseph McBride filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Linn County and Jerry Vander Sanden, the county attorney, violated his rights by having him arrested and jailed last year for a robbery committed in Cedar Rapids in January 2017. McBride spent approximately two months in custody, before all charges against him were dropped.

According to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for Northern Iowa, the only connection McBride had to the crime is that he was Facebook friends with some people suspected of the robbery. The lawsuit also contends that Vander Sanden and other officials ignored multiple pieces of evidence that Vander Sanden was in Arizona when the robbery occurred.

McBride was in his Phoenix, Arizona home last year when the police showed up with an arrest warrant issued by Vander Sanden.

“It was August 24th,” McBride told KCRG-TV during an interview, just after the charges against him were dismissed. “There was no knock, just a truck pulled up on the side of the building.”

McBride was held in jails in Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Missouri during the almost 30 days it took a private prisoner transportation company to get him to Cedar Rapids. After reaching Cedar Rapids, McBride remained in jail until charges were dropped on Oct. 31.

The lawsuit alleges “Vander Sanden intentionally or recklessly made false sworn statements in a criminal complaint and arrest warrant that led to McBride’s wrongful arrest and wrongful prosecution.”

The criminal complaint Vander Sanden signed stated the robbery victim had positively identified McBride as one of the three people who assaulted and robbed him in the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 2017. According to the lawsuit, the victim said he recognized McBride from photos he was shown — the CRPD downloaded photos of McBride from Facebook — but was never asked if he could positively identify McBride as one of his assailants.

The lawsuit also states the claim in the criminal complaint that “phone records and social media” showed that McBride had participated in planning and carrying out the robbery is false. It states that police reports show that McBride was not listed in any of the phone records examined, and his only social media connection to the crime was his Facebook status as a “friend” of some people the CRPD suspected were involved.

Investigators never spoke with McBride prior to his arrest, and appear to have been unaware the 2013 Washington High School graduate had moved from Cedar Rapids to Arizona in 2015. The only attempts the CRPD made to interview McBride before the arrest warrant was issued involved them going to his former Cedar Rapids home. They also called his old Iowa phone number, which now belongs to someone who doesn’t know McBride.

The CRPD began to suspect Joseph McBride after the robbery victim told them he’d been told one of the robbers was named “Jody Holiday.” Unable to find any records for a person by that name in Iowa, investigator conducted a Facebook search. They found McBride was also known on the social media platform as Jody Holiday. McBride matched the victim’s vague description of the one of the robbers — a light-skinned African American.

On Oct. 9, while McBride was still in transit to Cedar Rapids, his attorney filed a “notice of alibi,” including a time-stamped photo of McBride in Glendale, Arizona just hours before the robbery, as well as phone records indicating McBride was in Arizona that day and contact information for witnesses willing to testify as to his whereabouts.

McBride would have had to post a $50,000 “cash only” bond to get out of jail, and was unable to do so. He wasn’t released until the day after one of the people involved robbery started cooperating with investigators and provided the names of the men who had committed the crime.

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In his lawsuit, McBride is asking for an unspecified amount of damages, as well as attorney and other court fees.

Little Village contacted Vander Sanden via email for comment on the lawsuit.

“I am unable to comment on the McBride matter since I have not yet been served with a copy of the lawsuit,” Vander Sanden replied. “However, I have every confidence that a fair and impartial adjudication will be made on the merits of the lawsuit in federal court.”

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