The police department in Douglas County, Colorado, has finally apologized to Joshua McCay for arresting him in 2017 and charging him with driving a car during a police chase, despite having no evidence against him.
It took months for the police to arrest another suspect and drop their case against McCay, and the case raises some huge questions about how police handled the situation. Meanwhile, McCay is stuck with the cost of thousands of dollars in legal fees from battling a charge he should never have faced in the first place.
On Aug. 31, police arrested three people who had initially eluded law enforcement in a high-speed police chase but were later tracked down through their license plate number. When they were taken into custody, the trio reportedly concocted a plan to stay out of prison: They would invent a non-existent person and accuse this imaginary culprit of driving the car.
One of the suspects involved later told Colorado's KCNC-TV, “Someone said ‘Oh, since the cops do not know who was driving, let’s just come up with a fake name, and we’ll tell them it was him, and they’ll never be able to catch the guy because he isn’t real.’”
This completely fabricated criminal was described as a homeless man the three had met at a King Soopers supermarket and for some reason had let drive their car.
McCay recalled afterward that he saw in the police report that the suspects couldn't even agree on a name: “I was reading through the statement, the one guy said ‘We think the driver’s name is Josh or he might have been Eric and his last name is McCune or McCoy or McCay.'”
After getting the faulty information, the police searched for someone with that name in the DMV database, found Joshua McCay — who was not homeless, lived 80 miles away, and had an alibi (which the police did not check until two days after news about McCay's plight broke on KCNC).
The police then showed a single photo of McCay to the three suspects without offering any other photos to verify accuracy. Two of the three suspects agreed that McCay was the person from their story.
But one of the three told KCNC that she did not even think the photo was real.
“It didn’t look like a real picture," she said. "It looked like something that they had thrown together, like a Photoshop picture with what we had said.”
A felony warrant was issued for McCay, but no arrest was initially made. The next month, during a routine visit to the DMV, McCay found out that there was a warrant on his record. He went to the police station to clear up what he assumed was a glitch and was arrested.
“That was the first night I spent away from my son, and it was in jail,” McCay told KCNC.
Months would pass before the case against McCay was eventually dropped and the real driver of the car from the chase was arrested — one of the original three suspects who had fabricated the story about McCay. The other two original suspects have also been arrested for lying to police.
McCay has since had the records of his arrest sealed, to prevent a crime he never committed from appearing on his record in the future.
What did the police say?
On Thursday, Douglas County Undersheriff Holly Nicholson-Kluth admitted that her department had made a mistake.
“I do not know what we will do to make it right, but we will sincerely apologize, I know that,” she told KCNC.
“We want to go back and look and find out how this happened because we don’t want it to happen again,” she said, adding that there was an internal investigation ongoing and that "we will get to the bottom of that."
But McCay, who described himself as a "blue collar, 9-to-5" worker, is now in debt thanks to eight months of legal fees. He was told that he does not have a case to sue the county for wrongdoing. McCay and his wife are now using a GoFundMe campaign to try to raise money to cover some of their losses.
“We just want our life back. Financially, we are in a mountain of debt over it. But on top of that we want Douglas County courts and sheriffs to do better,” McCay said.