Dekalb County, GA — The three days Omar Malcolm spent in the DeKalb County Jail could pay off in a sum of up to $1.5 million, pending a settlement with the former police investigator who arrested him. Alexander Vots, the detective who was working a shoplifting case at a Verizon store, arrested Malcolm in what has proved to be a painful incident of incompetence.
In January 2016, Malcolm was one of two employees at a Verizon store who took down two would-be shoplifters and recovered a swiped IPad. Nearly a full year later, Vots was done with his investigation and was sure he had identified his robber.
After lifting fingerprints from the iPad, the detective had a suspect, none other than Malcolm himself. Yes, that’s right. The detective lifted the employee’s fingerprints and came to the conclusion he was the thief, in spite of surveillance video that proved otherwise.
Adding insult to injury, Vots convinced Judge Lindsey Jones to sign an arrest warrant for Malcolm, who was subsequently arrested on Dec. 10, 2016. He spent the next three days in jail for a crime he did not commit but actually prevented.
In January 2017, after Malcolm’s attorney came into possession of the security footage that showed his client was telling the truth, the young man’s criminal case was dismissed.
Judge Jones was the first to apologize. He told Malcolm, “Mr. Omar, I’m going to apologize to you…I’m the judge who signed the warrant to have you arrested.” He explained to Malcolm that a simple phone call to the store could have ruled out the young man as a suspect. But that call was never made.
Now, Vots is in the hot seat for violating Malcolm’s civil rights. He has since left the police department and cannot be reached for comment. But the former detective is the only defendant listed on Malcolm’s newly filed federal civil rights lawsuit for $1.5 million.
Robert James is one of Malcolm’s civil attorneys. James used to be DeKalb County’s district attorney. “Imagine spending days in jail for a crime, not only that you did not commit, but risked your life to prevent,” said James, adding, “It’s a miscarriage of justice. This should not have happened under any circumstance.”
J. Max Davis, Malcolm’s other attorney discovered why he thinks Vots made such a life-changing mistake. Davis asked Vots to provide video footage from the attempted robbery, and the detective sent him a video from the week prior to the one with which Malcolm was in the middle.
“It was time-date stamped the 16th of January,” Davis said. “It showed two different employees, a different situation. It was the same store, but it was clear in the corner that is was from 1-16-2016.” The actual attempted shoplifting crime which Malcolm prevented took place on 1-23-2016.
“I realized everything Omar had told me was absolutely true, and my heart sank,” Davis said. “It’s been a very tough ordeal for Mr. Malcolm. He’s handled it with dignity.”
In other words, the detective arrested a store employee based on video footage from a crime which took place a full week before the one which Malcolm prevented. Instead of receiving a commendation from the police department, he was arrested.
Davis now intends to hold the former police officer accountable for his actions. He described the interaction he had with Vots when he discovered the truth. “When I asked him if he ever verified that Omar was an employee of Verizon, he said, ‘Let me call you back.'” Davis said. “Just a little more work, just one phone call, and this wouldn’t have happened.”
“I spent 20 years working with police, and I have a lot of respect for law enforcement,” James said. “Our job is to hold someone accountable when they do not act as they should, law enforcement or otherwise.”
Malcolm spoke with an 11Alive reporter and commented about his time in jail and the ordeal of being accused of a crime he not only didn’t commit but one he actually prevented.
“This is a horrible experience all around,” Malcolm said. “I never want anyone to go through this torture.”