Bad police work and faulty facial recognition techniques resulted in financial adviser Steven Talley being arrested not once, but twice for bank robberies he had nothing to do with — a journey through Denver's legal system that also caused considerable collateral damage to Talley's body, his finances and his reputation.
Talley is now suing the Denver Police Department and the FBI for $10 million, claiming wrongful arrest and excessive force. His case is also getting a national airing on Showtime's new series Dark Net; the program's fifth episode, which premieres locally on Thursday, May 4, at 8 p.m., devotes a segment to how Talley's "life was ruined after facial recognition technology tied him to a crime he didn't commit."
Talley's ordeal, the subject of sporadic local coverage and one spooky longform account on The Intercept, began one evening in the fall of 2014, when he was lured outside his home on the pretext that someone had hit his car. Amid a flurry of flash-bang grenades, he was taken down by a zealous team of Denver SWAT officers; from their comments, Talley gathered that they believed he was the perpetrator of two recent bank robberies, one of which had also included an assault on a police officer.
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Talley claims to have suffered broken ribs, ruptured disks, cracked teeth, hearing loss, a penile fracture and other injuries in the course of the arrest. Despite his protests that the cops had the wrong guy — an assertion supported by the fact that he possessed the wrong height, weight, body type and fingerprints to be the suspect caught on surveillance videos — he was kept in jail for months before his public defender was able to obtain records that established that he was in his office, on the phone with clients, at the time the first robbery took place.
The indisputable alibi freed Talley. But nearly a year later, in late 2015, he was arrested again and charged with the second robbery, based largely on a dubious FBI "facial comparison" analysis, juxtaposing stills taken from surveillance footage of the robbery suspect with photos taken of Talley. But at subsequent court hearings, it turned out that the prosecution's key witness to the robbery categorically denied that Talley was the robber, and that by the FBI's own calculations, Talley was three inches taller than the robber.
Although such revelations finally ended the prosecution effort, Talley has not had an easy time putting his life back together. He's experienced joblessness and homelessness, lingering physical and psychological effects of the arrest and his incarceration. His attorneys, David Fisher and Jane Fisher-Byrailsen, represented one of the defendants in the Central Park jogger case who was later exonerated by DNA; they are also currently representing Lorenzo Montoya, whose coerced false confession to Denver police at the age of fourteen sent him to prison for thirteen years for a murder he didn't commit — and who is now suing the city for $30 million in damages.
"The Denver Police Department has effectively stolen my life," Talley says. "I'm fighting to get my life back."