The Inside Story: Sheriff's Office 'sorry' after massive bust snags wrong man

Darnell Brown was arrested during a big Augusta bust called Operation Smoke Screen, but now his name has been cleared. (WRDW-TV)
Darnell Brown was arrested during a big Augusta bust called Operation Smoke Screen, but now his name has been cleared. (WRDW-TV)
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News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- He was arrested in a criminal roundup called Operation Smoke Screen, but investigators got the wrong guy. Charges have since been dropped. News 12 has the exclusive reaction from the Sheriff's Office and the men looking to be the next top cop.

Who can forget the massive Operation Smoke Screen that snagged close to 100 suspected burglars?

"You look at the news and you think wow all these criminals are coming off the streets," said Katrina Hollis. "But it hits home when it's your kid and you realize, wait a minute, my kid? I know he didn't do anything like this."

Katrina's 21-year-old son Darnell Brown was one of the suspects locked away for four days on felony burglary charges. He was 20 years old at the time of the arrest in February of this year. The district attorney's office recently declared there is "no longer sufficient evidence to prove guilt."

"We're not settled as far as the investigators are concerned," said Cpt. Scott Peebles. "But we are settled that the right thing was done, and we are not going to prosecute."

They are not prosecuting thanks to a video of the suspect who was tall and thin with dreads. The suspect was strikingly similar to Darnell ... except for one thing. Darnell has an angel on his arm, a tattoo with his grandmother's name.

"How big a deal was that tattoo?" we asked Peebles.

"I think the tattoo is what created most of the doubt," he replied.

So what's the future of these major roundups?

"My platform has been the same on that," said Democratic candidate for sheriff Richard Roundtree. "I have been against a massive rounding up of individuals."

Roundtree says he follows a specific motto.

"I would rather let 10 guilty men go free than send one innocent man to jail," he said. "That is the mentality we have to take."

Republican challenger Freddie Sanders could not disagree more.

"You can't do that. He's not even upholding his office if he does that." Sanders said. "These sting operations are good. If they arrest somebody that didn't do it, that's wrong, but that doesn't mean you throw out the sting operation."

The family wants an apology from the Sheriff's Office for the mix-up.

"If he was not involved," Peebles said, "if he was not involved, then absolutely I would be sorry."

The family now has an attorney. They say they are exploring their options.

Click here to see News 12's previous coverage on this story.

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