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Sampson County woman mistakenly jailed

Posted August 20, 2008
Updated August 21, 2008

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— A Sampson County woman spent at least five hours in jail when she was mistakenly identified as a California fugitive.

Officers pulled over Janice Williams, 57, of Salemburg, on College Street in Clinton at 11 a.m. Saturday for not wearing a seat belt.

A driver’s license check mistakenly identified Williams as a woman in California wanted for a parole violation.

“The physical descriptors matched – the height, the weight,” Clinton Police Chief Mike Brim said. The race and the birth dates also matched.

The information was a shock to Williams, who said she has “never been” to California or prison.

After Williams was told that she was wanted on the other side of the country, officers asked for more proof of identification.

“Out of the clear blue sky, I was telling them my Social Security number,” Williams said.

Despite giving police her Social Security number, police were not able to confirm Williams’ identity. Brim said the problem was because the woman wanted in California has multiple identities.

“She has probably 20 aliases and 20 Social Security numbers,” Brim said.

Officers told Williams to follow them to the Magistrate’s Office. “To me, I was wondering, if I’m a criminal and wanted on a fugitive warrant, why are they letting me take my personal vehicle?” Williams said.

Clinton police asked California authorities for a picture of the woman wanted there, but Brim said they “refused” to send them a photo. Clinton police e-mailed a photo of Williams to California. Brim said California officials told them to keep Williams in custody until Monday.

Williams was taken to the Sampson County Jail. Williams said one of the jail employees prayed with her, adding “that they were doing everything in their power they could do.”

Williams spent at least five hours in the jail until fingerprints confirmed she was not a fugitive. More than nine hours after she was stopped for a seat belt violation, Williams was allowed to go home.

A photo of the real fugitive shows the two women are not twins.

“If the person in California would have looked at the photograph that we e-mailed them, they could have very clearly seen that this was not that individual,” Brim said.

Brim said officers followed protocol, but an internal review is under way.

“The officers on our end did everything they possibly could to try to get information from California to confirm or deny that this was the person they had stopped,” Brim said.

Brim said he’s determined to make sure Williams’ driver’s license doesn’t identify her as a fugitive to law officers.

“Our main objective at this point is to try to get it fixed in our system that it does not happen to her again, “he said.

Williams said the entire episode has deeply upset her.

“I lost my appetite, and I tried to build myself back up to it,” she said.


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  • wlm Aug 21, 2008

    This is another indication of the across-the-board problems in California. I know govt agencies are generally exempt from citizen lawsuits, but the State of California surely demonstated that they had no concern that someone from our State might have to unnecessarily sit in jail over a weekend! Why didn't they send a photo! I wonder if NC could sue CA for negligence, gross incompetence or something similar? The Sampson Co folks apparently did everything they could under the circumstances.
    I am caucasian and once was falsely accused of not wearing my seatbelt by a minority officer. As a matter of principle, I decided to go to court to get the charge thrown out; that took some time, but I'm, sure was nothing like having to sit in jail for five hours!

  • montyburns Aug 21, 2008

    seems totally legitimate mistakes happen, doesn't even sound like she was treated poorly.

  • h101334 Aug 21, 2008

    Try being falsely arrested sometime and then tell me how you feel about it. If you've never had that happen to you, you have NO idea what it is like.

    In our lovely country a spouse can file a 100% false domestic violence claim agaisnt the other spouse based on their word alone. Exactly what my 6"4, 220 lb. husband did. I had not even been anywhere near him and he had threatened me, yet got an idea to file a false domestic report. Based on his word alone, they arrested me. It was later dismissed, but it was horrible. Try being arrested falsely just because someone is lying and playing games. Police felt badly for me and told me they knew of 4 cases in the past month where an ex spouse filed a false domestic violence claim just to play games. Sick!

  • Transporter Aug 21, 2008

    If you think this a race issue you are an idiot. I have been pulled over before for not wearing a seat belt and I am white. She was not mistreated. So she spent 5 hours @ a police station b/c they thought she may have done something wrong. I havebeen there also. Someone thought I had stolen something from them and I had to sit in a police station for hours while they verified finger prints. I didn't beatch about it though.

  • ladyblue Aug 21, 2008

    The locals here could not let her go once the warrant showed up on her ID. It seems to me that California was taking their time in the matter. But again I guess CA has a lot more to deal with. It's a shame and I am glad they will be able to fix her license so this doesn't happen again.

  • Just the facts mam Aug 21, 2008

    If you want to blame someone, blame the woman in California who has the 20 aliases - one of them which is the same as Ms. Williams. Sounds to me like the police were doing their job as best as they could, and I appreciate them for that.

  • Dr. Dataclerk Aug 21, 2008

    It was really strange but I understood that the police were doing their job. Oh yes, and I didn't loose my appetite, unforunately.

    So you are telling us you was not mad but thrilled when the police pulled you over. Hello, get back into the real world, you are in fantasy land. lol

  • Dr. Dataclerk Aug 21, 2008

    I would have let her go. This is stupid.

    Thank-you. I would have too. Who wants to be arrested when you know you have not been to prison or committed a crime. False identity is something I would not want to happen to me or anyone else.

  • familyfour Aug 21, 2008

    If she wasn't wearing her seatbelt, she should have been pulled. Granted there are MUCH worse things going on in the world, but it's IS the LAW.

    I don't think it's a race issue either...there are folks of ALL RACES committing crimes,and I am sure we all have one out there that actually favors ourselves.

    I am still hung up on the fact that CA didn't want to cooperate. Maybe she should try to sue THEM.

    Thers are always going to unpleasant experiences, but at least they are TRYING...

  • skidkid269 Aug 21, 2008

    I would prefer the cops use caution. How many people would complain if the cops let a serial killer go because they weren't sure if they had the right person?!