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Mistaken identity in burglary attempt threatened job of witness

An East Side resident feared losing his job after he was mistakenly identified as the man who attempted to break into the North Buffalo Community Center last week. He was the witness who reported the crime.

James Houze Jr., 51, who works as a security guard, reported the break-in and helped officers make the arrest.

But he was then incorrectly identified as the suspect in a Buffalo Police summary of the arrest report, which The Buffalo News relied on in reporting on the incident.

"I said, 'Man, this is going to mess my name up,'" Houze said in an interview Sunday.

In fact, Jonathan Dobbs of Woodside Avenue was charged with possession of burglary tools, criminal trespass and possession of marijuana, according to the original arrest report.

Houze said he was arriving for work as a security guard at a company near the community center, at 203 Sanders Road, around 10 p.m. Wednesday when he saw someone looking into and trying to pry open the center's windows.

Houze said he called 911 to report the attempted break-in to Buffalo police, whose Northwest District offices are nearby on Hertel Avenue. As the sirens  got closer, Houze said, the suspect fled. Houze kept him in his sights but he did not try to detain him.

Houze said he identified the suspect to the officers, and the arrest report refers to an unnamed witness. The report also describes the suspect as a "white male wearing a black tank top," while Houze is African-American.

The arrest report said Dobbs was found a short distance away trying to flee on a bicycle, with burglary tools in his possession. Officers Kurt Makowski and Steven Maslowski also found marijuana in his backpack.

But the police arrest report summary, which is accessible to media outlets through the computer system at Police Headquarters, did not have Dobbs' name. Instead, it named Houze as the defendant. The News published an item on the arrest with that information  online Thursday and in print Friday.

Houze said his boss called him Friday morning about the news item naming him as a burglary suspect.

Houze said he was not fired, but he was told to stay away from work until he could show proof he was not the man arrested in the incident.

Houze, who said he also works as a New York State peace officer, said the case of mistaken identity was troubling and he worried about the damage to the reputation he's built up in the community. But he's tried to remain understanding and to keep a positive outlook.

So far it's working. He spoke to his boss Sunday after this story first appeared online and his boss said he understood and "I'll see you at work Monday."

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