WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Earle Bramhall was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
And it cost Bramhall nearly 10 years of his life.
In 2008, he was arrested for threatening to rob a bank in West Valley.
Ever since then, he’s been battling to clear his name.
“Well this has been (going on) since July 23rd of 2008,” said Bramhall.
He was standing outside the dollar store where he was accused of making a call from a phone booth. That phone has since been removed from the outside of the store.
“I came in here (and) I pulled in over there and parked,” Bramhall said.
Little did he know that West Valley police were watching him that day. They were undercover in their vehicles in the parking lot.
An hour earlier, someone had called the Cypress Credit Union with a threatening call.
From court transcripts, the bank manager recalled that moment.
“(He said) ‘you’ll do what I tell you to do or there’s a sniper in the business across the street with a gun pointed at your head,” the bank manager testified. “I’ll shoot you and blow up the building.”
West Valley police arrived and were able to track down where the call was made from. It was from a phone booth outside the Dollar Tree store west of the credit union.
They obtained surveillance video from the store and saw what appeared to be their suspect making a call at 9:05 a.m.
It was a man wearing what police later described as wearing Levi’s and a white T-shirt.
The bank manager told police she was to call that number once she got the money ready.
About an hour later, Bramhall arrived to make a call. He wiped down the phone with sanitizer. He said he doesn’t like germs.
But he said he didn’t have his international calling card and left to his office in Midvale.
Bramhall left but was being followed by police. Back then, he too was wearing a T-shirt and blue jeans. He was pulled over and arrested.
“I did not look suspicious,” Bramhall told ABC4. “I was innocent. I had nothing to do with that phone call.”
For the next five years, Bramhall remained in jail. He said he didn’t have enough money to post bail.
He was charged with threatening to rob a bank and over those five years, he was evaluated at the state hospital in Provo twice and had numerous other mental health evaluations.
“The people down there in Provo mental hospital had no idea why I was there for an evaluation because there was nothing wrong with me,” he said.
It wasn’t until another inmate who made a court appearance and informed the judge about Bramhall. Court records indicate Bramhall was brought before the judge and questioned why after five years he was still in jail. Bail was reduced and Bramhall was released.
His first trial ended in a mistrial and Bramhall said he wanted new lawyers because they wanted him to accept a plea bargain.
“I would not because I didn’t do this,” Bramhall said.
He was assigned two different attorneys and they looked at the evidence and went to trial. Two things helped his defense.
During a preliminary hearing, Bramhall asked the judge a question. He spoke 15 words.
“So you’re saying if I waive the hearing I’m saying that I’m guilty of it,” Bramhall asked the judge.
Inside that hearing was the credit union bank manager. She was a potential witness and had not been ushered out. She stayed and listened to Bramhall speak. It was the first time she had heard his voice since that phone call in 2008.
“To me, it was a kick in the gut,” the bank manager testified during the trial. “It was and I know I did cry but it wasn’t sobs.”
Bramhall’s attorney asked her what she did after hearing his voice. She said she was so upset that she left the courtroom.
At trial, Bramhall’s attorney showed the jury the video recording from that preliminary hearing and it showed she never left and did not show any emotion when Bramhall was speaking.
His attorneys also attacked the surveillance video.
“They’re looking at the screen and you’ll see it, you cannot tell, you cannot tell what’s there,” said Daniel Black, one of his attorneys.
The surveillance video was washed out and it was difficult to see anything when the man made the phone call.
“You’ll see the color of their clothes changes,” said his other attorney Chris Bown.
He pointed out the camera was not recording true colors when one was outside and then would step into the store.
“And so the fact that Earle Bramhall had a white shirt and blue jeans that day doesn’t mean a hill of beans for anything else that occurred before because you can’t tell the colors from the video,” Brown said.
It took the jury about two hours to find Bramhall innocent.
“I expected a not guilty,” he said. “I knew they had no case against me since 2008. It made me feel blessed, very blessed.”
Last year he sued West Valley police, Salt Lake’s district attorney and the credit union.
Last month, West Valley City settled but details were sealed.
“We mediated and I was happy with the settlement and I accepted it,” Bramhall said.
But he said it doesn’t erase the moment at the phone booth which cost him five years in jail and a decade to clear his name.
“It destroyed me business-wise and personally,” he said. “They basically destroyed my life.”
A West Valley police spokesperson sent ABC4 with the following statement: “West Valley City settled the Bramhall matter through a federal mediation. The City and City’s insure believed that the settlement struck the best balance between the cost of future litigation and protecting the taxpayer’s money.”
Sim Gill, the Salt Lake district attorney, who is also being sued had no comment citing pending litigation.