HOBBS, N.M. – A New Mexico woman was wrongly jailed for weeks after someone stole her identity and a New Mexico county and city, ignoring her pleas that they had the wrong person, refused to let her speak to a lawyer, according to court documents.
Lawyers for Joy Morales recently filed a lawsuit against Lea County and the city of Hobbs for refusing to believe Morales was a victim of identity theft and for erroneously jailing her over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays in 2015, the Hobbs News-Sun reports .
When Morales begged for an attorney, the lawsuit said New Mexico officials told her to write a letter and dismissed requests to check out her stolen identity situation.
Albuquerque civil rights attorney Carolyn Nichols, who represents Morales, said she tried to "express herself to whoever would listen" yet was consistently ignored.
A Hobbs police officer pulled Morales over in November 2015 and ran a background check, finding an active Arizona warrant, the lawsuit said.
Morales was booked at the Hobbs City Jail where she asked detention officers to compare arrest records and fingerprints to verify her claim. None of them conducted any "reasonable investigation" into the claim, the lawsuit said.
Authorities then extradited Morales to Arizona on a bench warrant originally for a woman named Devanne Archibeque who used Morales' identity during a 2014 aggravated drunken driving stop in Arizona. She gave Morales' name and date of birth, was arrested and booked into a Yavapai County jail in Arizona. Archibeque was someone Morales knew in high school more than 20 years ago, but they hadn't kept in touch, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit said the officer did not "undertake a reasonable" investigation to find out the validity of Morales' mistaken identity claim and could have compared booking photos.
The lawsuit also notes Morales reported her identity stolen in February 2014 in New Mexico after getting a traffic ticket and subsequent warrant through the false use of her identity. She was arrested in July 2014 on a warrant related to a December 2013 traffic citation. It was later dismissed by Bernalillo Metropolitan District Court.
Arizona officials released her after 49 days in jail when fingerprints showed they had the wrong woman and her charges were dismissed. Morales had undergone harassment and sexual assault while in jail, the lawsuit said.
"Meanwhile, before that happened, both Arizona and New Mexico — she just felt like nobody was listening to her," Nichols said. "And so, this is really an opportunity for her to be heard and get some kind of justice for having to go through that."
Morales is seeking an unspecified amount in damages.
Lea County and Hobbs officials said they couldn't comment on pending litigation.
Information from: Hobbs News-Sun, http://www.hobbsnews.com