Published February 26, 2014
GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. – Three northeast Florida sheriff's deputies have been disciplined after an arrest mix-up sent the wrong teenager to jail.
The then-17-year-old spent 35 days in the Clay County jail after being charged as an adult in a sexual battery case.
One deputy also faces a suspension and a transfer. The Florida Times-Union reports that in a disciplinary letter, Sheriff Rick Beseler wrote that because of that deputy's incompetence, "an innocent man was arrested for an offense that he did not commit."
The deputies actually had been seeking another student at the same high school with the same first and last names but a different middle name.
The first teen was arrested in late August after a girl younger than 12 years old told investigators that on or around Halloween 2012 she had sex with an older boy she identified only by name. Authorities say investigators failed to confirm their suspect's identity with a photo lineup and went looking for a suspect with the name reported by the girl.
Beseler said his department has policies in place intended to prevent these types of wrongful arrests.
"If those policies had been followed then this wouldn't have happened," Beseler said. "This is not a routine problem. That's why the supervisors are even being held accountable. We take this stuff very seriously."
When the teen went to court in early October and received documents with the details of the charges against him, he realized authorities were confusing him with someone else.
Both teens attended the same schools since seventh grade and were born the same year. The teens apparently knew each other but were not friends.
The correct suspect was eventually arrested and has a hearing scheduled for next month on a sexual assault charge.
The sheriff's office requested in December that the wrongly accused teen's arrest in the case be expunged. The teen has retained an attorney for a potential civil action.