OGDEN — A case of mistaken identity has prompted city administrators to recommend changes in its arrest warrant policy.
On Dec. 20, Ogden police received a message from the U.S. Army containing a felony, no-bond arrest warrant for Derek Billmire for being absent without leave. Utah state law and Ogden police policy allow felony warrants may be served at any time — day or night.
The message gave an address for Billmire's mother at 1033 Harrod St., an Ogden police report states. It was quickly determined that 1033 Harrod was a typo for 1033 Harrop St. in Ogden. A search for Billmire's driver's license information also yielded an address in Harrisville.
Officers arrived at the Ogden address that night armed with three rifles and a shotgun, after they discussed the nature of the warrant and the likelihood Billmire would have weapons, the report stated.
An officer knocked on the door and announced the presence of police. The homeowner, Eric Hill, opened the door with a baseball bat raised above his head, police said. Police asked him to lower the bat and then, believing him to be Billmire, handcuffed him, saying they would detain him until they could verify his identity.
Inside the house, Hill's wife was able to provide his driver's license. Hill was immediately released from handcuffs as police apologized, the police report said. The Hills said they had purchased the home from Derek Billmire's mother, Tina Billmire.
Officers did locate Billmire at the Harrisville address, booked him into the Weber County Jail and subsequently released him to Army custody.
An internal investigation found that police did not break any laws in detaining Hill. But city officials say they don't want to see a similar incident occur.
"Based on the recent police report on the mistaken-identity incident, we will make changes to our arrest-warrant policy and procedure, ensuring officers are making use of available resources and verifying addresses on arrest warrants," Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell said. "Officers will also be required to weigh the public safety threat of the wanted person and the risk of serving the warrant during nighttime hours."
Proposed changes also include strict guidelines for warrants served after 10 p.m., such as background and address verification checks before officers can make contact at a residence.
"In response to the incident, Ogden police thoroughly reviewed policies from 11 agencies within Utah and seven agencies outside the state," Caldwell said. "We found our policies regarding the serving of arrest warrants are consistent with the policies and best practices studied. Nevertheless, we think that policy improvements can be made to increase safety for our (residents) and officers.
"We are deeply sorry for any fear or unintentional stress the Hill family felt and have offered our sincere apologies," Caldwell said. "The primary goal of our officers and my administration is to keep the public and our police officers safe. These changes will allow us to continually improve on that goal."
Ogden Police Department officials say they have made several attempts to speak with Hill and his wife following the incident, but they are currently refusing to cooperate with the investigation.