A case of mistaken identity led the Woodward County District Attorney’s office to file a “serious” drug charge against an innocent man earlier this week.

On Wednesday, a felony charge for distributing methamphetamine was mistakenly filed against Kevin Michael Cozens, 28, of Woodward.

But it wasn’t until after Cozens turned himself in on Thursday and allowed himself to be arrested and booked into the Woodward County jail for a crime he didn’t commit, that officials with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Control admitted they had named the wrong guy.

“It wasn’t until after (the charges) were filed and he (Cozens) was arraigned that I was notified that by law enforcement that a mistake had been made, that it was someone else perhaps using his name,” Assistant District Attorney Danny Lohmann said.

On Friday, Lohmann said Cozens “was arraigned yesterday morning (and) law enforcement informed us of the discovery of the error yesterday afternoon, so the charges were dismissed this morning.”

Not only were the charges dismissed, but the record has been expunged so that there is now no record in the Woodward County Courthouse that the charge had been filed against Cozens.

“I’m just glad it’s over with,” Cozens said Friday.

He said he doesn’t blame the District Attorney’s office or even the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics for the situation.

“I got to give it to them (OBN), they’re just doing their job,” he said, noting that he is actually “glad they’re pursuing those guys as aggressively as they do” and “are out there” trying to get real drug dealers off the streets.

“I’m not mad at them a bit,” Cozens said.

The only person he is angry with, he said, is the person who is “tarnishing (his) name.”

“It shouldn’t be done,” he said, noting “I wouldn’t do it and I don’t understand why others do it.”

How the charge came to be filed

“Basically it boils down to identity theft,” Lohmann said. “And unfortunately we know that happens all the time, with people getting their credit wrecked and stuff. And in this case it resulted in criminal charges being filed, which is pretty serious.”

The charge of distribution of methamphetamine is serious in itself, he said, noting that it can carry a punishment from two years to life in prison.

Lohmann said that the District Attorney’s office filed the charge against Cozens because that was the name listed in the affidavit that was submitted to them.

“We rely on the affidavit prepared by law enforcement. And the affidavit that they (OBN) presented … identified that there was a Kevin Cozens that sold some drugs to a confidential informant,” he said, noting that “in this instance, it appears he (Cozens) was innocent, but there is someone probably using his name.”

Nevertheless, Lohmann said that “on the face of the affidavit there was probable cause” to charge the perpetrator, wrongly identified as Cozens in the affidavit, with a crime.

“We rely on law enforcement to do the investigation and we bring the charges,” Lohmann said, adding that “we couldn’t investigate everything ourselves; we don’t have the staff or anything to do that or the training or whatever.”

How the OBN missed the case of false identity

The OBN agents, who do have the proper training in investigative procedures, also have to work with the names they are given, according to OBN spokesman Mark Woodward.

After an investigation into a suspected drug dealer, Woodward said “you have to get a warrant for their arrest and they need a name on the warrant and you’re going, ‘well, what we know right now is the name he is using is this.”

“We were going by the name we were given and it’s not uncommon for people involved in drugs to steal identities or use a brother’s ID card. I mean, that happens on a daily basis,” Woodward said.

He said OBN agents “do everything we can to verify (identity),” but indicated that most of the steps are taken after an individual has been arrested and booked into jail, which is when fingerprints are taken and checked against others in the law enforcement system.

“Unless you have reason to believe it’s somebody else, you’re not always in a hurry to go arrest them and book them and find out who they are,” Woodward said.

He explained that sometimes immediate arrests are not made.

“Sometimes you work a case and sometimes it leads to other people so you don’t always go in and make arrests immediately,” he said. “We’ve had cases that last six and nine months and then you swoop in with 50 to 70 arrest warrants and go in and get them all at once. It’s a case by case deal.”

In this case, Woodward said “we didn’t have an immediate reason to worry about getting this person identified, we would do that upon arrest, which is typically what we do. That is why you book them and take fingerprints; it’s part of normal procedures.”

How the mistake was finally identified

Cozens said he found out about the charge after having “friends and family calling (him) early in the morning.”

“They were saying that I was in the paper for meth,” he said. “So I got up, called the sheriff’s office and sure enough, they had a warrant out for my arrest.”

The next thing he did was to call his attorney, Cozens said, noting that he and his attorney then went to the courthouse so he could turn himself in.

“I had to go downstairs and get processed,” he said, adding that he was quickly released on $10,000 bail after that.

“I never had to put on any orange or anything,” Cozens said.

After being released, he met with officials with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics “to try to get things straightened out.”

“It was all done by the time the day was over,” he said.

Woodward said his agency “found out (when) … he (Cozens) contacted us yesterday morning and we met with him about one o’clock and literally within two hours, we realized that he was not the person, that somebody was using his name.”

“We found out and we immediately interviewed him, double checked with our tapes and we were able to corroborate his story,” Woodward said, noting that Cozens’ voice didn’t match with that of the individual who was recorded on tape during two separate undercover drug buys.

However, the OBN spokesman said it took two hours to verify that Cozens was telling the truth about his innocence, which he seemed to think was fairly quick, because “we wanted to make sure 100 percent that we could confirm or substantiate his story.”

“We don’t just take somebody’s word for it because they all say, ‘I didn’t do it’ or ‘that wasn’t me,’” Woodward said.

Reaction

When Cozens received the first phone call asking about why his name had appeared in the paper in connection with a drug charge, he said he “thought it was comical.”

“But after the second call, I realized something was up,” Cozens said. “It was just a shock.”

Then he experienced some fear, anger and frustration over the situation. But, overall, he said he just wanted to figure out “what do I need to do to take care of this?”

“That’s why I turned myself in,” he said. “I’m not going to run from it because I didn’t do anything.”

Cozens said his friends really helped him get through the ordeal.

“They sure made it a whole lot easier. I’m glad they were there for me,” he said, noting “everybody that knows me, knew it wasn’t me.”

One friend, Todd Stricker, said he “never thought for a second” that his long-time friend, who he described as “fun” and “a hard working kid,” could be associated with distributing methamphetamine.

“Kevin is not a drug dealer,” Stricker said, noting “I’ve known Kevin since he was 14. … I knew he was innocent.”

“People that used to know him, kind of know who he is, instantly aren’t going to associate him with being a friggin’ drug dealer, because he’s not,” Stricker said.

The outcome

“It’s an unfortunate incident,” Lohmann said. “I feel bad for the gentleman that was wrongly accused.”

“Hopefully we’ll catch the real perpetrator, because not only would he be facing charges for the drugs, but there would be some identity theft charges as well,” the assistant district attorney said, noting that identity theft is also a felony charge that can carry up to 10 years in prison.

“We’re still looking for the original guy,” Woodward said, noting that “we don’t know for sure if it was a brother-in-law, cousin or a complete stranger.”

“We don’t know how somebody else used his identity, but unfortunately identity theft is all too common,” he said. “Somebody used his name and they may still be using his name for all he knows and we know. We’re trying to find him (the perpetrator).”

Woodward said his agency wants to find the real perpetrator “immediately, for the sake of Mr. Cozens.”

“If he (the perpetrator) is using (Cozens’) name doing this, who knows what else he may be doing,” he said.

“We want to get him in custody also because he could potentially be a big supplier of methamphetamine in the Woodward area,” Woodward said.

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