Police pay in arrest of wrong man

By Senta Scarborough

The Arizona Republic

Nov. 27, 2002

Aaron S. Markley was an Arizona State University honors student until Mesa police mistook his identity.

He had to drop out of school, lost a home he and his wife had purchased, and spent $40,000 clearing his name.

This week, Mesa police were ordered to shell out $500,000 after a Maricopa County jury found the department was negligent when it falsely accused Markley of selling drugs.

The jury also found gross negligence against then-undercover officer Elizabeth Horn.

Markley, 31, of Mesa, was accused by police of selling methamphetamines to Horn in April 1998 from a trailer.

The arrest was not made at the time of the drug purchase to protect the officer's identity. But when officers returned to the trailer to make the arrest, the suspect was gone.

The mix-up came when police tried to find the suspect but misidentified Markley as the drug dealer because of a similarity in the spelling of his name.

"It sends a pretty clear message to law enforcement to make a better effort and make sure you got the right guy," said Larry Debus, Markley's attorney.

Markley was at a gun show with his mother in January 2000 when he discovered there was an outstanding warrant against him after he tried to purchase a gun. He turned himself in and was arrested and released on his own recognizance.

He began a seven-month legal fight, costing $40,000, to prove his identity and clear his name. Police eventually apologized to Markley and the criminal charges were dismissed, but not before the incident had created havoc in the life of the Markley family, Debus said.

Besides having to quit school and losing his home, Markley, then a bank employee, lived with nightmares of going to prison and being separated from his wife and two children. "It knocked them for a loop," Debus said.

His wife was forced to quit her job to take care of the children because Aaron could no longer help because of random drug tests and court appearances.

Now, the Markleys have a third child and are still struggling with what happened, Debus said.

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