Lawsuit: Mistaken identity led to jailing of Vegas performer
RENO, Nev. (AP) — A Las Vegas entertainer who lost his job on an Australian cruise ship while jailed in rural Nevada for a residential burglary has sued two counties, claiming he was held for 18 days in what appears to be a case of mistaken identity.
Sean Laughlin, 56, accuses Lyon and Nye counties of violating his constitutional due process rights and Nevada law requiring that jailed suspects see a judge within 72 hours.
The nightmare described by his lawyer as “Kafkaesque” began Dec. 12, 2016, when a state trooper stopped the longtime comedian and juggler for a minor traffic offense in Carson City.
A routine warrant check showed a Sean Laughlin was wanted for failing to appear in court for a burglary earlier that year in Pahrump, 385 miles (620 kilometers) away.
The crime involved stealing jewelry, used women’s clothing, DVDs, camper and electric screwdriver with a total value of less than $4,000.
Laughlin insisted he had no criminal record, had never been to Pahrump and had not received a summons.
Still, his initial bail was set at $450,000 then “mysteriously” increased to $675,000 when he was booked into jail, according to his attorney, Terri Keyser-Cooper.
Eighteen days later, severely depressed and borderline suicidal, Laughlin was set free with no explanation and without ever seeing a judge, the lawsuit states.
While behind bars, he missed the cruise from Australia and was fired.
“It is a story straight from hell and right out of Kafka,” Keyser-Cooper wrote in the lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in Reno.
She cites parallels to Franz Kafka stories about ordinary people thrown into worlds they don’t understand and can’t explain. In “The Trial,” a bank clerk is arrested by unidentified agents from an unspecified agency for an unspecified crime.
Throughout his incarceration, Laughlin protested almost daily to deputies, inmates — “anyone who might listen,” according to the lawsuit that seeks unspecified damages while accusing the counties and others of “participating in the unlawful conduct or acting jointly and in concert with others who did.”
Keyser-Cooper told The Associated Press, “This false arrest, made with callous and deliberate indifference, almost ruined Laughlin’s life.”
Lyon County District Attorney Stephen Rye declined comment. Nye County District Attorney Angela Bello did not respond to requests for comment. Laughlin was arrested in Lyon County and later moved to Nye County.
The lawsuit says his arrest apparently stemmed from confusion involving Laughlin, who lived in Silver City, and another Sean Laughlin in Pahrump, who could not be reached by the AP.
During the arrest, a patrolman pulled his gun, ordered Laughlin to his knees and searched his vehicle unsuccessfully for contraband, the lawsuit says.
Nine days later, Laughlin spoke for the first time to an attorney who started explaining the situation to Nye County prosecutor Christi Kindel, pleading unsuccessfully for reasonable bail.
The lawyer told Laughlin it was doubtful anything could be done before the new year because most county workers would be on vacation. Laughlin feared “he would remain in jail forever,” the lawsuit states.
To his “amazement, without warning, without explanation,” Laughlin was released Dec. 29 without ever seeing a judge.
Laughlin spent most of 2017 depressed and unemployed before getting a job this year as a laborer.
The lawsuit contends that he could have shown he was the victim of misidentification, had been overseas when the burglary occurred, and never received a summons. If he’d seen a judge as required.
“The judge would have immediately known the bail in the amount of $675,000 was unreasonable and absurd,” it states.