Local News

Sampson County woman mistakenly jailed

Posted August 20, 2008 4:56 p.m. EDT
Updated August 21, 2008 11:32 a.m. EDT

— 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.