July 9, 2011
On June 24, 2010, Ikenna Njoku walked into an Auburn, Wash., branch of Chase Bank intending to cash a $8,463 Chase cashier's check he'd brought in the day before.
Instead, members of the Auburn Police Department handcuffed Njoku and threw him in jail, where he sat for the next four days. Chase claimed Njoku had tried to cash a fraudulent check. Twenty-four hours later, Chase realized it had made an error.
"I was really embarrassed. I got put under arrest in front of a lot of people," Njoku said.
A year ago, the 28-year-old former construction worker had been thrilled to buy his first home, and qualified for the first-time home buyer tax rebate. According to a letter Njoku's lawyers wrote to Chase Bank, the Internal Revenue Service had wired more than $9,000 into Njoku's account. Chase deducted $600 to recoup the amount it was allegedly owed for Njoku's overdrafts and mailed Njoku the balance -- $8,463.21 -- in a cashier's check.
When Njoku went to Chase Bank to cash the check, he presented two forms of ID. Njoku said the teller was rude. "She looked me up and down and asked me a series of questions, like where I got the check and what I did for a living."
According to Matthew Knopp, one of Njoku's attorneys, the teller told Njoku that she could not cash the check immediately. When Njoku returned the next day, Chase refused to honor the check and instead had the Auburn Police Department arrest Njoku and haul him off to King County Jail.
"At bottom, what Chase did was wrong," Knopp said. "They treated him in a way that no one wants to be treated or deserves to be treated."
Cmdr. Mike Hirman said that a Chase representative had left a voicemail message for a Police Department detective June 25, a Friday, saying that the check was valid and that it had made a mistake.
"This means there was no longer a probable cause for arrest, and Ikenna should have been released from jail," Hirman said.
But the detective was not in that day, and the Police Department did not hear Chase's message until Monday.
"It was tough sitting in jail for so long," Njoku said. "Chase is the company that's responsible. People go to cash checks every day and not every time do people get thrown in jail."
Hirman said, "The lawyers think Chase could have tried harder to get him out, like calling 911 to speak to someone or following up."
During his four-day jail stint, Njoku's favorite Infinity I30, which he'd parked in the bank's lot, was impounded. Without sufficient funds to retrieve it and pay the fees, the car was auctioned off.
A year later, Njoku is still without a car.
According to his lawyers, without a vehicle, Njoku couldn't get to work, and so he lost his job too.
Njoku's attorneys have demanded that Chase make "full and fair financial compensation" to their client.
"He lost a lot, and hopefully they will simply do the right thing," Knopp said.
Tom Kelly of Chase Media Relations said in a statement to ABCNews.com, "This is a very unfortunate and unusual situation. We apologize to Mr. Njoku and deeply regret what happened to him. We are working quickly to understand all the details so we can reach a fair resolution."
The original check had been seized as evidence during Njoku's arrest and not returned to him until five weeks later -- a major point of contention for Njoku's lawyers who said that Chase should have recognized its mistake and reissued their client a new check immediately.
"I'm hoping that their policy changes," Njoku said, "and this doesn't happen to anyone else."