SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. -- A man who was charged in a deadly fight he was later proved to have no involvement in, continues to struggle to get his life back. The charge against him was dropped, and for the first time, we are hearing what put him on law enforcement’s radar in the first place.
It was December 29th, 2019, just before 2:00 a.m. when Spokane Valley dispatch phones began lighting up. There had been a fight near Icabod's in Spokane Valley. The victim, Daniel Jarman, was rushed to the hospital with severe head trauma. For a few days, there was some hope, but on January 3rd, Daniel was taken off life support.
That same night, a man named Joe Riley, a stranger to Jarman, was at home.
"I was not (at the bar,)" Riley said. "I was at home with my family."
That has been Joe's story all along. It was an ordinary, quiet night he spent with his wife, new baby, and other children. He said they were still smiling about the wonderful holiday memories made days earlier.
"I think it was the best Christmas we had in years," he said.
Pictures capture their glowing faces, so blissfully unaware of what the new year would bring.
"It's one of those things you can't fathom," he said.
Riley said he didn't even know about the assault, claims he had no connection whatsoever to the victim. So, imagine his shock when his young daughter opened their door to some unexpected company.
"Next thing I know, my house is surrounded by police," he said. "I asked them what was going on, and all they said was, 'there was a bar fight.'"
They told Riley it happened near Icabod's in Spokane Valley. Icabod’s is a Spokane Valley bar Riley said he can recall going to maybe once during his years and years of living in the Inland Northwest, but certainly not on December 29th. Joe said he told detectives that immediately, but they had more questions.
"(The detectives) asked to see my hands," Riley said.
Riley said he showed law enforcement mark-free hands and knuckles. He said he was then told why detectives were on his doorstep.
"He states to me, 'why are these girls saying it's you? A trillion percent sure it's you?' I just said, 'what girls?'"
Riley learned two eyewitnesses had told deputies Riley was the man who viciously beat Daniel. Because Daniel had not yet passed, the charge he was taken in for was for first-degree assault. Riley said he does not recall ever meeting or having any contact with the women who were accusing him of the crime.
"I just leaned up against the door and I said, 'God if you can hear this, stop it...I don't know what's happened to me," he said.
Riley's wife and kids feeling all but handcuffed too as they helplessly watched their world crumble.
"Having to go through something like that...telling my children goodbye for something I didn't even do, yeah, it was horrible," Riley said.
And things would only get worse.
"I hid under the table in my cell and cried my eyes out," Riley said.
The cell is where Riley would stay for 13 days until his wife could bail him out.
"My wife saved me, she did, she saved me," he said.
During that same time period, an investigation from Riley's side also began. His wife was stopping at nothing to try to expose the truth. Riley's team finally learned what, or should we say who, led detectives down a trail to an innocent man.
Riley's attorney gave KHQ copies of material associated with Riley's defense. That included the 911 call made by one of the eyewitnesses. In that 911 call, you can hear the woman tell dispatchers repeatedly that she didn't see who attacked the victim. She said, "I have no idea" when asked. She denied knowing who was responsible for the assault in that initial call at least three times.
The next day, recordings show that same woman called crime check with a different story. She said after spending time on Facebook, she came across Riley's profile and now wanted deputies to know, that he is the suspect. She also provided information about where Joe works.
Records state two days after the bar fight, the woman gave a formal statement to SCSO. In that recorded interview, the woman said she now recalled specific details about the assault, including the number of times she allegedly saw Joe hit the victim.
KHQ reviewed court documents that show a friend partying with that woman the night this happened also told deputies that Joe was the attacker. Because the case is still active, we are not releasing witness names.
The stories the two women told nearly shattered Joe's family. He remembers looking at the detective working his case and begging for mercy.
"I'll never forget when I was handcuffed and I looked at him, and I said, 'please help me. Please help me find who did this because I didn't and I want to go home,'" Joe said. "(The detective) said, 'if you didn't do this, I'll make sure you get to go home.'"
Riley posted bail after spending nearly two weeks behind bars. But even upon his release, this was hanging over his head.
SCSO says even after Joe was taken into custody, their detectives continued to work the case. That process turned up information pointing away from Joe having involvement.
“Investigations are about finding out the truth,” said SCSO Cpl. Mark Gregory. “Our investigators continued to work this case following the evidence, compared to witness statements, and began to see some inconsistencies as they continued to go further. Through this thorough investigation, they developed information to approach the prosecutors office and request the charge to be dropped on Mr. Riley. Prosecutors agreed and the change was dropped.”
Prosecutors eventually announced they were dropping the charges with prejudice, meaning the case against Riley would be dismissed permanently.
"I was this close to completely losing my life," Riley said through tears. "This close without any evidence to never being able to hold my daughters again."
Riley said he was never told what specific evidence detectives uncovered that finally cleared his name, but suspects it could be his phone records and, or statements from other witnesses confirming Joe was never there.
Joe said he just hopes someday the person who really is responsible is found and brought to justice.
"His poor family," he said. "I'm sorry this happened to them."
Two men. Two strangers. Both victims, although so different, from one awful night.
"For the rest of my life, I will have to recover from this," he said. "My integrity, my family's integrity will always be questioned. And, to this day, not one person has come forward to say, we made a mistake."
It’s been about six months since Joe Riley had to fight like he’s never fought before to clear his name, and now, he just wants one thing.
"Help me get my life back," he said.
But in order to get that done, Riley said he needs help with the thousands of dollars in bills he racked up while working to prove his innocence. Between paying bail, finding a private investigator, and hiring an attorney, Joe says he is out more than $40,000 in legal fees. He says the arrest also nearly destroyed his small business, Speakeasy Tattoo.
"This horrible event has ruined me, and my business," he said. "This has been an emotional and physical trauma. I have been diagnosed with PTSD. There is no complete recovery from this."
Riley has filed a claim against Spokane County. He reached out to Hayley after he was told by a Risk Management staffer that they would not be giving him money to cover those bills. Hayley began looking into the story earlier this month. She too reached out to the same county employee and was told they were in fact going to be making Joe an offer for compensation. Riley said that offer was made last week. He says the offer was not enough to cover his legal expenses. He plans to continue to fight this.
The private investigator hired by Riley wrote in a report that the same female eyewitnesses who identified Joe as the killer, have since pointed the finger at someone else.
Because this is still an active case, SCSO didn't want to get into details. They did say information has surfaced pointing to another person of interest, but as of mid-June, no one is in custody for the attack on Daniel Jarman.