RENO — Two rural Nevada counties have paid $250,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former Las Vegas entertainer who was wrongfully jailed for 18 days for a burglary he didn’t commit in a bizarre case of mistaken identity, his lawyer said Wednesday.
Sean Laughlin, 56, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Reno in October against Nye and Lyon counties accusing them of violating his constitutional due process rights and Nevada law requiring that jailed suspects see a judge within 72 hours.
Laughlin’s ordeal began in December 2016 when a state trooper stopped him for a minor traffic offense in Carson City. A routine warrant check showed a Sean Laughlin was wanted for failing to appear in court for a residential burglary in Pahrump, 385 miles away.
Laughlin insisted he had no criminal record, had never been to Pahrump and had not received a summons. But he was booked into jail where his bail rose as high as $675,000 before he was set free 18 days later with no explanation without ever seeing a lawyer.
The longtime comedian and juggler lost his job on an Australian cruise ship as a result of his incarceration.
Court records show U.S. Magistrate Robert McQuaid Jr. approved the settlement on Feb. 7.
His Reno lawyer, Terri Keyser-Cooper, said Wednesday they have received two separate checks for $125,000 and are “elated” with the outcome.
“Sean certainly deserves it,” she told The Associated Press. “He spent 18 days locked up for something he didn’t do, lost his job with the cruise company — a gig he had had since 1991 — and nearly went out of his mind.”
Lawyers representing the two counties did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.
The crime involved stealing jewelry, used women’s clothing, DVDs, camper and an electric screwdriver with a total value of less than $4,000. Throughout his incarceration, Laughlin protested almost daily to deputies, inmates — “anyone who might listen,” the lawsuit said. He eventually became severely depressed and borderline suicidal.
The lawsuit said if he’d been able to go before a judge as required, he could have shown he was the victim of misidentification, had been overseas when the burglary occurred and never received a summons.