Florida man with same name as suspect wrongly arrested in battery case

Wrongly-arrested 19-year-old spends night in jail

FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. – Dakota Ward has never been in trouble, his attorney tells News 6.

"It was a personal heartbreak," said attorney Joshua Davis. "I got a call Saturday from his family who I've known for a while now. They're hysterical, police at the house, here to arrest my son, and he hasn't done anything wrong."

Davis said over the phone he heard the Ward family attempting to explain to the arresting deputy that he had the wrong young man. Despite their pleas, Dakota Ward was booked into the Flagler County Jail last Saturday.

Ward spent an hour and a half in the jail until his father bonded him out.

It wasn't until the following Thursday that the Sheriff's Office apologized to Ward, cleared his name, and launched an internal investigation.

The director of the Flagler County Sheriff's Office said a newspaper reporter notified the public information office of the mistake on Thursday, five days after the arrest.

"My first response is we failed," said Director Jim Troiano. "We made a mistake, we arrested the wrong person. And our apologies go out to him and his family."

Troiano said the deputy should have arrested Da'Coda Ward at a different Bunnell address for a December battery incident involving an ex-girlfriend and for failure to appear in court. A warrant was issued instead for Dakota Ward, also of Bunnell.

"We can say very confidently, we made a mistake," said Troiano. "It was an error in identifying this individual and we want to find out where that error was made. When you look at the actual arrest of Dakota, it was done lawfully."

"My theory is the guy looked up someone in the computer, that's the same name, let's go get him," said Davis.

Already, Troiano said the deputy who responded to the battery incident in December and took the report at the scene has been suspended.

"That seems to be our problem here, everyone was just doing their job," said attorney Joshua Davis. "The guy who wrote the report that was false was doing his job. The person who served the summons was doing their job. The guy who arrested my client were doing his job. Everyone is doing their job but they arrested a 19-year-old kid who has never been in trouble before."

Davis said he contacted the Sheriff's Office Civil Services division on the Monday after Dakota's arrest to notify the agency of the mistake but the Sheriff's Office didn't take action until 3 days after that.

Troiano said the internal investigation will include checking to see if the Sheriff's Office was told of the mistake sooner than five days after the wrongful arrest and, if so, why the information wasn't routed to the proper personnel.

Davis told News 6 he plans to sue the Sheriff's Office for $100,000, the maximum allowed in cases involving a government entity.

On Friday, the Sheriff's Office said it had concluded its internal affairs investigation into the false arrest.

"This was a terrible mistake and we offer our sincere apology to this man and his family, and we are doing everything in our power to rectify this matter," Sheriff James Manfre said. "It's clear from this investigation that this was an isolated incident and had standard criminal investigative procedures been followed, these mistakes would have never occurred."

As a result, the proper suspect was identified and all charges were dropped against Dakota Ward. Deputies said his arrest photo was also removed from the sheriff's website.

The recommended discipline for the deputy involved was a three-day suspension without pay, according to the Sheriff's Office. The deputy had 10 working days to decide whether to appeal the decision.​

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