"A friend called me and said that I was on the news for a shooting and I was like, 'This must be some practical joke,'" Van recalled. But he wasn't laughing. He says his nightmare began in February of last year when friends told him he was wanted for a shooting. They had seen his mug shot, from an unrelated incident in 2007, and Van was being named as one of Oakland's most wanted criminals. "I went home and checked the internet and I was shocked, like who done this to me?" he recalled.
Flanked by his attorneys, John Burris and Dewitt Lacy, Van says he went to police to tell them they had the wrong guy. "This is not me, let's clear it up," he remembers telling them. He says he was quickly thrown in jail. Three days later, he was released, never charged with a crime and never told why or how his name became the focus of a criminal investigation. "I was shameful. I don't know what people were thinking of me," he said.
Ten days after the ordeal began, he says his name remained on Oakland's most wanted list, depicting him as a violent felon. In fact, Van says he stayed on that list for six months. In a federal suit, he claims the city of Oakland, Chief Howard Jordan, and members of the Oakland Police Department "placed him in constant fear for his safety" and as a result, he lives in a "state of embarrassment, depression and shame."
"Some kind of corrective action should have been taken, given an apology, and efforts should have been made to have his name removed," Burris said. The suit does not specify the damages Van is seeking and city attorneys will not discuss the merits. "We really need to review the allegations and determine the facts before we can comment at all," said Alex Kats at the Oakland City Attorney's Office.
The Oakland Police Department declined to comment.
It may ultimately be up to a judge to decide if Van's claims are true.