When Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan brands someone as one of the four most wanted criminals in the city, he better have justification.

And if he's wrong, he needs to apologize -- fast. The longer he remains silent, the longer a man's reputation remains tarnished, and the greater the city taxpayer liability.

The city faces a civil rights lawsuit, alleging defamation and violation of due process, filed by a man whom Jordan in February 2012 asked the public to help catch. At first police said Chau Van was wanted for a gang shooting.

According to his lawsuit, Van learned he was being sought after friends and family saw his picture on television. After he turned himself in, Jordan boasted of the arrest, but police then said Van was wanted for a baseball-bat beating.

Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan pauses while answering questions from the media during a press conference at Oakland Police Headquarters, Tuesday, Jan.
Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan pauses while answering questions from the media during a press conference at Oakland Police Headquarters, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013 in Oakland, Calif. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff)

Van was released from jail three days later. Police said they had more work to do on the case. He was never charged.

According to Van's lawsuit, his requests that the city remove his name from the most-wanted list were ignored for six months, until he hired a lawyer.

Attorney Dewitt Lacy says his client lost job opportunities and, having been named for gang activity, feared for his safety. Lacy says Van had no criminal past justifying suspicion of violent wrongdoing. He's seeking damages.

Lacy also wants police to make the same effort to clear Van's name as they did naming him a criminal suspect. If Jordan has an explanation, we would love to hear it. If he does not, he should begin his loud mea culpa immediately.