SCHR Files Lawsuit Over Grandmother Imprisoned Due To Mistaken ID

June 23, 2014 13:53 pm

by Charlie · 7 comments

They were only 5″ of height and 50 pounds off in weight from having a matching description.  I have no idea what the other side of the story is, but the Southern Center For Human Rights wants damages for the lady that was arrested in Dublin and transferred to Atlanta because of a warrant for another person.  Fulton County and Laurens County hardest hit.  From a press release:

ATLANTA– Today, the Southern Center for Human Rights, along with pro bono attorney Charles Hooker of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, LLP, filed Tinsley v. Griggs, et al. a civil rights lawsuit against the Fulton and Laurens County Sheriffs’ offices  on behalf of Joyce Ann Tinsley whose constitutional rights were violated after she was repeatedly misidentified and imprisoned as another woman.  The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

Joyce Ann Tinsley is a grandmother who has lived in Dublin, Georgia most of her life.  In October of 2012, Ms. Tinsley was wrongly imprisoned, first by law enforcement in Laurens County and then in Fulton County, without a warrant and without probable cause after she was continuously misidentified as Joyce Ellen Johnson, a woman wanted for forgery in Fulton County.

The misidentifications began when Fulton County Defendant Rashad Hudson became aware of  two separate social security numbers for Johnson while completing warrant paperwork. One of the social security numbers belonged to Ms. Tinsley. Failing to address or correct the plain error of two social security numbers for one person created a domino effect.  This error connected the warrant for Johnson to Ms. Tinsley. The error was exacerbated when the Laurens County law enforcement officer ignored Ms. Tinsley’s repeated protestations that she had been misidentified. Had officers cared to  inquire further they would have found that Ms. Tinsley was not Johnson and should have been released. The discrepancies ignored by the Fulton and Laurens County officers include the following: 

 

PLAINTIFF

WANTED PERSON

Name

Joyce Ann Tinsley

ornson

Joyce Ellen Johnson

Date of Birth

November __, 1966

December __, 1967

Social Security No.

259-13-____

257-49-____

Street Address

104 Thelma Drive

930 Capitol View Avenue

City

Dexter

Atlanta

County

Laurens

Fulton

Height

5’ 11”

5’ 6”

Weight

196 lbs

145 lbs

State ID Card No.

050319950

055264046

FBI No.

140024MA8

837705RA7

Laurens County transferred Ms. Tinsley from their custody, and Fulton County officers Griggs and Howard then arrested her as they unreasonably relied on the false and invalid warrant created by Officer Hudson’s error despite also being made aware of the errors.  Like the Laurens County officers, Griggs and Howard ignored the multiple inconsistencies between Johnson’s identifying information and Ms. Tinsley’s.  Once again, Ms. Tinsley repeatedly informed each officer that she had been misidentified, but was ignored. Each officer could have easily verified  what she was saying and each officer continuously disregarded the risk that they were wrongfully holding Ms. Tinsley.

“This case is about vindicating fundamental Constitutional rights and making sure the government is held accountable—and in check—when it exercises its considerable power without commensurate care and attention to basic details as critical as a person’s identity,” said Charles Hooker, counsel for Ms. Tinsley.

After being illegally detained for five days, when the misidentification was finally recognized, Ms. Tinsley was dropped off by police in the middle of the night in downtown Atlanta with only a public transportation pass, leaving her alone in a city she had never been to before to find her own way home, two hours away, to Dexter, GA.

“This incident could not have occurred but for the Defendants’ conscious indifference to Ms. Tinsley’s right to liberty, or their wholesale failures to use due care in the performance of ministerial tasks,” said SCHR attorney Ryan Primerano.   Gerry Weber, Senior Counsel for SCHR added , “This grandmother’s nightmare could have happened to any of us.  One error in typing in a social security number had a domino effect when officers in two counties ignored the obvious — they had the wrong person.”

The named defendants in the lawsuit are Fulton County Police Department officers;  Benjamin Griggs, T. Howard and Rashad Hudson and Laurens County Sheriff’s Office deputies; Colby Clements, Retha Pauldo, and Gerald Thigpen.

“Kilpatrick Townsend is committed to investing pro bono resources to cases that advance the basic civil rights and liberty interests of individuals living in the communities where we do business.  We are proud to partner with the Southern Center for Human Rights to secure justice for Ms. Tinsley, ” said Tamara Caldas, Pro Bono Partner at Kilpatrick Townsend.

DrGonzo June 23, 2014 at 2:53 pm

More outstanding work by Georgia law enforcement officers. Too bad it’s the taxpayers that will pay in the end, and not the incompetent officers.

Dave Bearse June 23, 2014 at 9:28 pm

Too bad it’s paid for by taxpayers? No, taxpayers paying for it means more taxpayers will pay attention.

I hope she and her attorneys receive a nice fat check. Remember, it wasn’t that the state’s recent sentencing reforms were a result of a desire to do the right thing, but rather that the state could no longer afford to incarcerate convicts as it had been doing. Reform was all about the dollar.

It’s been demonstrated time and time again, for example with de-institutionalization of the mentally disabled, or more recently the Transparency Commission and child welfare, that Georgia state government often won’t do right except by court order, a hit to the pocketbook, or deterioration in circumstances to the point public outrage.

The Last Democrat in Georgia June 24, 2014 at 12:13 am

Unfortunately, you are all too correct that the state often only does the right thing only after it is forced to do so.

seenbetrdayz June 24, 2014 at 8:53 am

I don’t think Gonzo was implying she doesn’t deserve compensation. Just a matter of who it will come from.

Yeah, if it comes from the taxpayers, they *might* pay attention. Speaking generally, as a taxpayer, if you have to contribute a penny or two, combined with millions of other taxpayers, to add up to a settlement, there could possibly come a point where you might start becoming slightly irritated.

But if an officer has to give up 4 years of salary and some, he *will* pay attention.

If a doctor screws up, taxpayers don’t foot the bill. Result: Doctors do everything they can, not to screw up.

If a construction contractor screws a house up during remodeling, taxpayers won’t come to his rescue. He has to pay for the damages. Result: Contractors do everything they can to make sure they get the job done right.

If a police officer throws a flashbang in a baby’s crib (going back to a story weeks ago), taxpayers pay for it. Result: Rambo cop gets 2 weeks paid suspension (vacation) and returns to duty, ready to do it all over again.

Holding people directly accountable will definitely have more immediate effects. It has in nearly every field except public service, where the burden of fixing mistakes is so widely distributed that everyone might care a little, but no one person cares a lot.

DavidTC June 24, 2014 at 12:35 pm

At the very least, we should hold the departments accountable. Something like ‘All lawsuits we lose due to your department come out of your department’s budget over the next decade’.

Although I vaguely worry about idiotic laws there. I mean, if the legislature passes an unworkable or unconstitutional law, and the police try to enforce it and get sued, that’s not really the fault of the police.

But overuse of force and clerical errors and crap like that? Yeah, that should come out of the budget of the police department, and one of the things to be cut should not only be the salary of the officers involved, but their supervisors. All the way up.(1)

Of course, you’re going to also want a rule that such salary docking travels. If the guy goes and gets a job at some other police department, that police department should only be willing to pay him the lower salary.

1) Although first we probably should make sure that such clerical errors are not due to an underfunded police department in the first place. Or, alternately, instead of cutting their budget, keep it the same, but force them to hire people to check their work. (Or, as I said below, hire more damn defense attorneys and give people immediate access to them.)

seenbetrdayz June 25, 2014 at 5:24 am

Agree. I could think of some departments whose budgets wouldn’t last long, though.

DavidTC June 24, 2014 at 12:17 pm

I always find it amazing how we’re willing to spend so much money on law enforcement, but no money on, for example, having a lawyer and judge on call at all times.

I mean, why shouldn’t everyone who gets arrested have the ability to immediately talk to a lawyer, who could then immediately hand some paperwork over to judge if it was clearly some utterly bogus arrest?

This entire thing where the police can arrest people and they don’t even get the possibility of talking to a lawyer for days is complete nonsense. (Oh, sorry, I meant where the police can arrest poor people and that happens. The rich, of course, can call their lawyer at any time.)

And it’s not just for mistaken identity. There are examples of people having serious medical issues and the police not believing them for days, or people having some sort of civil rights violation happening and the police running around destroying evidence before the victim can get a court order stopping that, or people caring for children or disabled people and having no chance to notify any alternate caretakers, etc.

And, no, people can’t demand to talk to a lawyer and have one show up. If you are arrested, and you ask for a lawyer, they have to stop questioning you until you get a lawyer…they don’t have to get a lawyer for you, they can just stop asking questions. (And police actually want to question people less than TV portrays. Like in this example, when someone is picked up on an arrest warrant from somewhere else, there’s no reason to question them at all.) Likewise, you don’t actually get a phone call unless they want you to have one…not that non-rich people could locate a lawyer in the middle of the night.

We really need to change our understanding of ‘right to an attorney’ to mean ‘You get to talk to one whenever the police arrest you, as soon as possible, just in case there’s some grievous error being made in your arrest’, not ‘You get one before you appear in court’.

Yes, that will require hiring some more defense attorneys instead of a shiny new SWAT vehicle.

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