Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Wrong Man / Fourth of July

Shortly after I realized what was going on, my sister sent me a link to a Washington Post article entitled "The Wrong Man." It was downright scary. It was then that I realized just how precarious my situation is. Please have a look and see if you don't agree:

The Wrong Man

From the article: Each of at least six entities to handle Fishburne's case -- the Maryland State Police, the state Department of Corrections, the Prince George's County Sheriff's Office, the state's attorney, the District Court administrator and the sheriff issuing the warrant in Georgia -- maintained that responsibility for confirming the prisoner's identity fell to someone else.

Also from the article: A brochure from the District Court of Maryland explains that if Fishburne wants to expunge the record he shouldn't have, he will first have to sign a waiver freeing the state from any liability and forfeiting any right to sue.

Admittedly, I will not face the same racial prejudice that Elias faced, but I still have a great fear that the system will not treat me well. It started as a small fear, but on the Fourth of July 2006 it was compounded by another incident with a police officer.

By the time the Fourth of July rolled around it had been a full month since I found out about the identity theft. I'd already filed my police reports with Miami-Dade as well as my local police department. I figured with the police report number memorized I'd have some protection from being harassed by police. All I'd have to do is tell them the number and they could look it up and I'd be fine. Unfortunately you don't always have that opportunity before there's a problem.

The Fourth of July represents our declaration of freedom from a government that no longer kept the best interests of its people at heart. Also, there is a big fireworks display. As such, the Fourth of July is a huge event here at the beach. This particular year there was also a space shuttle launch, which was visible to the south from our beach. In short, the streets were flooded with tons of people.

Amongst all the people enjoying their holiday were many police officers. Some in cars, some on foot, and some on bicycles. My guests included the web designer I work with on many of my projects, his fiance, some of his family, and some other friends. He lived nearby and I'd invited them over because my house had a better view of all the activity on the street.

While we were sitting on the porch grilling food and enjoying the scene laid out in front of us a police officer on a bicycle pulled up in front of the house. What came out of his mouth astounded me. He said "Hey, ya got any dope up there?" I simply said, "No." He responded "Well, I hear you're a drug dealer." With that he turned around and rode away without waiting for an answer.

I turned to my guests and said "Did that really just happen?" They confirmed that it had really just happened. In front of seven guests, including one that I had a business relationship with, the officer had just ridden up to my house, accused me of being a drug dealer, and ridden off. At that point it hit me like a ton of bricks that simply notifying law enforcement would not be enough to protect me. If they would so blatantly harass me in front of witnesses, what might happen if they got me alone?

It really got to me. I became very fearful for my freedom and my well-being. For the next month I was scared to leave my house. If I had to go somewhere I would either walk or find someone else to drive me if I could. I would only drive if I absolutely had to. I felt absolutely trapped. I began having anxiety attacks nearly every day. I'd wake up and jump out of bed in the middle of the night gasping and scared out of my mind, but not knowing what was wrong.

One evening in August it had gotten so bad that I started hyperventilating while watching TV at my neighbor's house. As I sat there breathing into a bag, he gave me some advice that helped get me back on the right track. It went something like this:

"Look what this is doing to you. You can't let it get to you. Yeah, it's a big deal, but worrying about it so much isn't helping. It's wrecking your life."

I had to forget about it for a while. I decided that I'd go about living my life like a normal person and not like a prisoner in my own home. When I could afford a lawyer I'd get it taken care of, but in the meantime I was going to quit living in fear. If I get beat up, or imprisoned, or shot then that's just the way it goes. Living in fear is only debilitating. It doesn't stop what you fear from happening, it only stops you from living your life. No one should live like that.

It really made a difference. I'm still worried, I still have nightmares about the police coming after me, but I live my life day to day and I'm generally a pretty happy person now believe it or not. Yeah, it still gets me down every time the system dumps something new on me, but I just have to plow through it and tell myself that eventually I'll be in a position to do something about it.

Next post: Good News / Bad News

Friday, April 20, 2007

Day in Court

Nothing too exciting happened in court. I told the judge that the County Clerk's office recommended that I request a dismissal of the charges. I told the judge about the errors, and how the check had been sent 10 days in advance and asked for the charge to be dismissed.

She told me to hand all my evidence over the to prosecutor, and that the "state" would look it over and mail me something if they decide to dismiss it. If I don't receive a dismissal by mail, she told me to appear at the county courthouse downtown at 9AM on May 1st or a warrant will be issued for my arrest. One more day of missed work if they don't decide to dismiss it.

I was not allowed to point out any specific errors on the documents. I was told that the state would figure out of there were any errors. Let's hope that whoever looks it over is more diligent than the person(s) that made all the errors in the first place.

Next post: The Wrong Man / Fourth of July

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Need a laugh? I do.

I know this story is kind of a downer, so I wanted to include something fun. The County Clerk's office provided me with some excellent material. This is the pamphlet they give you to make sure you have no problems getting to your court date. Obviously the parts in red are mine, the rest is unedited. Click on the picture for the full effect:

EDIT 4/19/07 11:31AM: I was wrong about the Main Office address. That is the correct address. The courthouse address, however, is still dead wrong. Also, their website is still giving the same "not found" error after nearly a month.

Next post: Day in court

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Coming back to haunt me

$300 may not seem like a huge amount of money, but when you have only $0, it's a lot. When the police wrote up all those tickets I was already struggling just to pay my rent and utilities. My two roommates had moved out and I'd replaced them with one roommate who could only pay a third of the bills. The only reason I wasn't starving was that the restaurant I worked for part-time would feed me.

My bad tooth had developed an abscess which, if you haven't had one let me tell you, is a very painful experience. There's a place downtown that will extract your teeth for free. They only do it on Saturday mornings, and you have to get there early. The first Saturday that I went, I got there about a half hour before they opened. Unfortunately they only can accept the first ten people, and I was eleventh in line. I, and the people in line behind me, were turned away.

For the next week the pain got progressively worse. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. I searched the Internet trying to find out exactly how much aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), and ibuprofen I could take without it killing me. I tried to obtain painkillers from other sources. Just anything to reduce the pain. The most effective thing I found was a combination of acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and alcohol. The problem with this is these things put a lot of stress on your liver. Your liver needs to break down the toxic chemicals, and the combination of acetaminophen and alcohol is more than it can handle. When you are taking too much acetaminophen you actually begin to feel the toxicity building up in your system. You get this nasty chemical taste in your mouth, throat, and sinuses that pervades your every breath. It's very unpleasant, but not nearly so much as an abscessed tooth. Even so, waves of pain would come that were still unbearable. I seriously considered trying to knock the tooth out with a hammer and screwdriver.

When the next Saturday rolled around, I was up early. Actually, I hadn't been able to sleep at all, so getting up early wasn't a problem that morning. I left when it as still dark and the sun was just coming up as I got to the north side of Jacksonville. I was there an hour early, but this time there were even more people waiting. The line stretched from the front door of the house to the sidewalk, and nearly down to the corner. Some were standing and some were in lawn chairs that they had brought. It reminded me of people camping out for front-row tickets to a big concert, just not as festive. This is what people do that have no money and no insurance. If it happens here, it probably happens everywhere else in this country. I'd never even thought about it until it happened to me.

As I drove back home I realized that I was going to have to sell my car. I needed $665 to have the tooth pulled and it just couldn't wait. I also needed close to $300 to pay my tickets and I couldn't put that off any longer either. I had a 1986 Mustang GT Convertible with 160,000 miles and a lot of body rust. It was kind of ugly, but it ran great and it was my favorite car I have ever owned. I had planned on restoring it if I could ever get the money to do it.

I put the Mustang up for sale on Craigslist and priced it to move at $1200. I'd planned on holding out for $1000, but when one prospective buyer pulled out $800 in cash, I had to take it. I couldn't bear the tooth any longer.

This didn't leave me with enough to pay for both things, so my mother was kind enough to help out. With ten days to spare, she mailed a check for the tickets to the County Clerk's office. A couple weeks later I received my receipts showing the tickets were paid. I also verified on the DMV website that the tickets had been marked as paid.

A neighbor of mine had an old Honda that had over 200,000 miles on it and a salvage title--it was a totaled vehicle that someone had picked up from a junk yard and made roadworthy again. He couldn't get much money for it so he was going to donate it to his church. He ended up giving me the car because he felt bad for my situation, and I'd been helping him learn how to use Linux on his computer. If it wasn't for him, I probably still wouldn't have a vehicle.

In my last post I mentioned getting locked in the back of a police cruiser a few weeks ago. Here's what happened:

A friend and I went for a cruise up to Fernandina because it was a Sunday, we were both broke, and there was nothing else to do. On the way back, about a mile from home we passed a stopped police cruiser. I checked my speedometer to confirm that I was driving within the designated speed limit. He followed me for a minute, then turned at an intersection.

However, a moment later I saw the flashing lights of a police car approaching from behind. I pulled over, and another police cruiser showed up on the scene as well. When the officer came up to my car he asked me, "Are you Todd ______?" I told him I was, and he asked me to step out of the vehicle.

Once I was out of the vehicle he asked me to walk to the front of his car. In front of his car he had me spread my feet apart and to put my hands on the hood. As he was searching me I said, "There's something I should probably tell you." I told him about the identity theft, and that even though my record says a lot of awful things about me, that they weren't true. I told him that I was working with the local police and the State Attorney's Office to get it fixed.

He asked me if I was aware that my driver's license had been suspended three times and I told him that it must be a mistake because I had no outstanding tickets and I hadn't received anything saying that my license was suspended. He asked me if I had any drugs or weapons or anything else in my car that he should know about. I told him that there was nothing illegal in my vehicle and that he was welcome to search it.

He talked to the officer from the other vehicle for a moment and then turned back to me and asked me to step around towards the back of the vehicle. He said, "I'm not going to handcuff you, but I need you to sit in the back of the vehicle until I get this sorted out." I told him I understood and climbed into the back of the police car.

The police cars here don't have regular seats. The seats are made of molded plastic, like those booster seats restaurants keep for little kids. They put these seats in the police vehicles to make it easier to clean up the vomit, urine, and blood. Although I'm not claustrophobic, being locked in the back seat of a cop car definitely makes me uncomfortable--especially when I don't know how long I'm going to be locked in there.

The officer had my friend get out of the car and searched him and the interior of my car as well. While I was waiting I looked at the computer in the cop car. It showed no warrant thankfully, but it did still show the multiple AKA's attached to my record. When the officer came back I pointed out the little "B" on the computer screen that indicated the the perpetrator was black, not white.

He let me out of the car and told me that he was going to let me go home instead of taking me to jail because there was obviously something messed up with my record. However he said that he still needed to issue the ticket because my license had definitely been suspended. I had to let my friend that had never driven a stick before drive my car home.

Before I left I asked the officer if I should have been notified about my license being suspended. He told me that I should have received a separate notification for each of the three suspensions.

The next day I began investigating why my driver's license was suspended. I started with the six documents I'd received regarding the paid tickets: three receipts from the County Clerk, and three receipts from the DMV. In Jacksonville you have to pay your tickets to the County Clerk, and they forward the information to the DMV. This is why I received two receipts for each ticket.

Before I go any further, let's say my address is "123-1 26th Ave North" (actually it's not 26th Ave, but at this point I don't feel like giving out my real address--however the rest is exactly as it is printed on my driver's license.) This is the address that's been on my driver's license since I moved to this address over four years ago. On each of the documents the address was typed wrong. It was typed four different ways, none of which was the proper address. These are the addresses on the documents:

1231 26th Ave N -- my street, but 11 blocks away
123 126th Ave N -- not a valid address
123000 126th Ave N -- not a valid address
123100 26th Ave N -- not a valid address

Now, keep in mind, all three of these tickets were issued at once. All three tickets were paid at once from one check. My driver's license has and has had the correct address on it for over four years. The check was mailed ten full days prior to the date it was due to be suspended.

I also looked at a copy of the the check. The deposit time on the back of the check is 1:30PM, October 4th. Payment was due October 3rd. My mother had mailed the check by Priority Mail on September 23rd.

The first thing I had to do was to get my license re-instated. I called the DMV and they said I'd have to bring the receipts to one of their offices and pay a $47.50 "service fee" to have it re-instated. I got my neighbor to drive me to one of their offices, but it was Monday and according to the sign on the door, the DMV is closed every Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

On Wednesday I was able to find another ride to the DMV. I showed the lady behind the counter my receipts and pointed out the errors. I asked her if that was why I didn't receive any notification of suspension. She said that the County Clerk's office had clearly put in the wrong addresses, and that the notifications would have been sent to the wrong addresses. She said that there was nothing she could do about the $47.50 service fee because it was not the DMV's error. She said that she believed the judge would dismiss the ticket because there were so many obvious errors. However, she said that she was not allowed to give me anything in writing stating this. I wrote a check for $47.50, then she handed me a receipt and told me that I was once again legal to drive.

Next I had to set up the court date for the ticket. In Florida, driving with a suspended license is a criminal offense and requires a court appearance whether you plan to plead guilty or not. I called the town where I'd received the driving while suspended ticket to set a court date, but they informed me that I would have to schedule with the County Clerk's office. For some reason I have to go to court at the county courthouse, even though the ticket was issued by a local police department.

So, I called the County Clerk's office regarding the problem. It took several hours to get through. Most of the time it was busy, the rest of the time I would just sit there on hold waiting for someone to answer until I was eventually disconnected. I spent a couple hours doing this before I finally was able to get through to someone.

When I finally got through the woman that answered told me that I could not arrange for the court date over the phone, and that I had to appear in person in order for them to set a date. Please tell me I'm not the only one that thinks this whole process is completely ridiculous!

While I had her on the phone I asked her about the errors on the receipts. After looking them up she said, "Well, someone really made a mess of this. The judge should dismiss your ticket." When I asked if I could get that in writing, she said "No, we don't do that." Of course not, you can't expect people to be accountable for their mistakes.

The next step of this long drawn-out process was for me to drive to the County Clerk's office. While I was there, I showed the deputy clerk the errors on my receipts. He agreed that someone had clearly screwed up in the process and that was why I'd never been notified. Then I showed him a copy of the check that had paid for the three tickets I had received. I asked why they waited so long to deposit the check.

His response was that you should never mail a check to the Duval County Clerk's office. He said that the office that receives the checks would regularly let the checks sit around a week or more before processing them. He told me that I should always bring the ticket in myself, that way I would get a receipt with the actual date the fine was paid. He told me that he also thought the judge should dismiss the ticket. And, no, I couldn't get him to put that in writing.

Well, 3 out of 3 government employees agree, the judge should dismiss this ticket. I hope the judge agrees as well because, as I mentioned before, driving while your license is suspended is a criminal offense here. And I really don't want that on my criminal record.

Next post: Need a laugh? I do

Monday, April 16, 2007

Answering some questions

Ganellon said...

This is a pretty remarkable story. I almost wonder if the media wouldn't be a better avenue. I imagine at least one of the cable channels like "Court TV" would be extremely interested in your story.
I'm curious -- do the authorities now acknowledge that you are not the felon? How do you prove you're innocent of crimes for which you've already been convicted? I wonder if there is video evidence somewhere of the court precedings that would show the actual felon during his trial. Surely, if he had an arrest in your name, there must be a "mug shot" with an associated docket number that they can reference to determine that you are not, in fact, the person convicted of these crimes.
I feel very badly for you, and am literally stunned.


I was interviewed by a TV reporter about this last summer. The interview was aired on FOX30 and CBS47 in Jacksonville, Florida. However, when I got to the part of the interview where I had explained how I found out, it was replaced with a short voice-over saying something like "Todd found out when a police officer from the bank mentioned something about 'Miami.'" Nothing at all was left in about what actually happened. And, ironically, they got my name wrong in the segment.

The segment ended up being about 2-3 minutes long, and basically ended saying that people experiencing this type of problem need to contact the State Attorney's Office.

The State Attorney's Office recommended that I report it to my local police department and the Miami-Dade police department. I reported it to both departments eight or nine months ago. However, nothing has changed. It's just stalled with them.

I spoke to an attorney about it before-hand. He told me that while it should be possible to deal with this myself, it's unlikely that I would really be able to get results without legal representation. He'd apparently had a client with the same sort of problem who spent a year trying to take care of it himself, then ended up hiring the attorney to take care of it.

The attorney summed it by up telling me that it was a matter of knowing what buttons to push to make them do their jobs, and even as an attorney it would take a lot of hounding them to get anything done. He said it would be $1500 to get started on it. And at this point I'd gladly pay the $1500. It's a big chunk of money to come up with with my current income, so it's taking some time. I'm pretty sure I'll be able to hire him this summer.

As far as photos, I found pictures of the felon on the Florida Department of Corrections and the New Jersey Department of Corrections websites. It's extremely obvious from the photos that he is not me. In addition to that, all the court records show that he is black, which I am not.

So it's not really a problem proving that it wasn't me. The problem is getting anyone to do anything about it.

Next post: Coming back to haunt me

Friday, April 13, 2007

Finding out the hard way (Part 3)

I like to think of myself as a good person. When I leave this world, I would like to leave it a better place as a result of my time spent here. To steal from someone, or to harm someone physically or even verbally is just not in my nature. When I see someone else suffering, I feel it. Even though I don't have much, I still try to find ways to help people when I can. I truly believe that even the smallest actions can make a big difference.

One thing I strive for is to treat everyone with respect, regardless of who or what they are. Because of this I find it easy to get along with just about everyone, even people that have a hard time getting along with anyone else. For someone to just flat-out hate me or to treat me with pure contempt is foreign to me, at least in my life after high school. That's one of the things that really struck me about the blond police officer. Her behavior just screamed "I think you're a piece of trash and I despise you."

That night was pretty rough for me. I was in a very bad position. First of all, I was barely making enough money to pay rent. Secondly, I was desperately trying to save money to have a bad tooth extracted--a root canal would have allowed me to keep the tooth, but broke people without a dental plan or credit card don't get the luxury of keeping their teeth. And now I'd just been handed nearly $300 worth of tickets due in 30 days, not to mention that I also would have four or five points added to my previously clean driving record.

Between the physical pain of the tooth and mental anguish of knowing that I was on the brink of losing everything, I had some pretty dark thoughts. I never felt like such a loser in my entire life. In a little over five years I'd gone from success to the brink of homelessness while my friends were doing well and buying houses and driving new cars. I'd looked into government medical assistance or even just food stamps, but I'd already found out that was only for people willing and able to have children. The only way out would be to sponge off my friends and family. In my mind I'd become exactly the kind of person that I didn't want to be. Instead of making the world a better place I'd be a parasite to anyone that cared about me.

These were the types of thoughts that spun through my head as I tossed and turned. Sometime after dawn I finally fell asleep for a couple hours. When I did finally wake up, I still didn't get out of bed. I lay there staring at the ceiling well into the afternoon. I didn't want to ever get out of bed. I wished that I could just go back to sleep and never wake up again.

One thing I've been blessed with in this life is a caring family and true friends; the type of friends you keep for a lifetime. In the end this was my salvation from the downward spiral into which I felt myself being drawn. It wasn't that I'd forgotten that I had people that cared about me. What saved me was that I was struck with a sense of responsibility to the people who loved me and stood by me and believed in me even though my situation had been deteriorating for several years. I couldn't let them down.

With my self-pity set aside I began to get angry. And believe me, being angry was a much better place to been than where I'd been heading. It wasn't until this point that I started wondering what the hell had actually happened. I began to walk through the sequence of events in my mind.

I thought about how the JSO officer had started following me as soon as I left my driveway. Well, if I didn't have my lights on that would make sense. But if I was driving without my lights, why make up a speeding ticket? And why was my speedometer lit up if my lights were off? If I had truly left my lights off, wouldn't I have noticed when I tried to turn them off after being pulled over? That would've certainly been one of those "Oh Sh*t!" moments.

And what was the deal with the local cops being involved too? In the space of a couple hundred yards door-to-door, three cops in three different vehicles from two different police departments claimed to have seen me commit three different infractions, despite that I was driving as perfectly as humanly possible due to the fact that I was being followed from the moment I left my driveway. [Yeah, that's a run-on sentence--write me a ticket.]

Was there something else going on here? Or had I finally cracked from the stress and this was some kind of paranoid delusion? Why would three different police officers from two different police departments just randomly target someone who had never caused any trouble before? I thought about the blond officer that seemed so pleased with herself after lying about my seatbelt. Were the cops in this town just so plain sadistic that they'd enjoy doing something like this?

The officer I'd encountered from the bank a couple weeks prior seemed like he'd be the type. After all, he'd acted like he despised me for no reason other than the teller at the bank had forgotten to return my ID. Had the world gone crazy, or had I? They must think I'm some kind of criminal to treat me like this.

And that's when it clicked. The officer from the bank had said something like, "I was on the phone with my friend from Miami and he said he thought he might know you."

I jumped out of bed and ran to my computer. After a bit of searching I found the website for the Miami-Dade County Clerk and it had a search page for civil and criminal infractions. I searched for my name and sure enough there was one person with a matching name. Well, my name isn't incredibly common, but it wouldn't be surprising to find someone else with the same name. What was surprising is that the date of birth listed was the same as my birthday. I was later to find out that he apparently had the same Social Security Number as me as well.

I clicked on my name and the first thing I found was a charge for Possession of Marijuana, filed September 11th, 2002. Not exactly something you want on your record, but hardly the kind of thing to make the cops want to run you out of town. I was able to bring up the docket on the case and find a little more info. Bail bond issued in my name (unknown amount.) $2000 in fines, $136 in court costs. Failure to pay. As of this writing it is still delinquent and currently in collections. No big deal at this point since my credit has already been completely trashed.

I remember thinking, yeah that's kind of a big deal, but now I have enough perspective to realize that's just small-time stuff. You're not a real thug until you have some robberies and violent crimes on your record like I do.

At present I have four other AKA's on my record, and who knows how many other crimes. I won't get into all the details yet, because that's going to take a while. But the crimes attached to my record so far include:
  • Drug possession - no explanation required
  • Strongarm robbery - Physically robbing a person, but without a weapon. As in "Give me your money before I kick your ass."
  • Fugitive something-or-another - Can't find where I wrote the exact term down. Basically splitting town when you're on probation and know you're wanted.
  • Aggravated assault with intent to cause serious bodily injury (two counts) - That's assault with a weapon. Not quite attempted murder, but pretty darn close.
The fugitive one is the one that I have a warrant for. Just to be clear about that, the warrant is in my name with my social security number on it, not the guy's who did it. The odd thing about the warrant is that it only shows up about half the time. I don't know exactly how the NCIC database works, but it's not very well as far as I can tell.

For instance, one lawyer-friend-of-a-friend ran a background check for me and said no warrant. After that, when I reported the ID theft the police officer's computer showed a warrant. The Identity Theft Resource Center in California ran a background check a week ago and it shows a warrant. I'm assuming the JSO officer did not see a warrant. The FDLE (Florida Department of Law Enforcement) Wanted Persons website says I'm wanted, however when I paid them the $23 to see what they have on my record it said I have no record at all. While I was locked in the back of a police cruiser a couple weeks ago, I noticed that his computer said no warrant--yeah, I'll get to that part of the story another time.

In my next post I'll probably write about what I found out (this one was about how I found out.) Or maybe I'll write about how no one in the system cares, or knows what to do about it, or wants to take responsibility for fixing it. Maybe I'll speculate on how my identity got stolen in the first place. Maybe I'll delve into why this will always follow me around and why I'll have a carry a "factual finding of innocence" document for the rest of my life (if I can ever manage to get the document.) There are about a million other facets to this that I could write about.

If you're interested in my story please pass it around. This is something that can happen to anyone. Right now there is no system in place to help people deal with this, at least not here in Florida. The people working within the system have no idea how to deal with it. The places advertising identity theft help are talking about typical identity theft, not criminal identity theft. This is a problem that will get worse before it gets better.

Next post: Answering some questions

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Finding out the hard way (Part 2)

We get a fair amount of tourists in our town. Most are here to enjoy the beach and maybe the nightlife. Unfortunately some get carried away, and since my house is near the end of the strip, I get to witness a lot of their antics. Things like blaring their car stereos at 3AM on weekdays. Things like seeing how fast they can possibly go between the stop signs on my block. Things like throwing beer bottles at our parked cars as they speed by. For these reasons I was kind of glad to see the JSO DUI unit regularly parking at the end of my block on the weekends.

Before I go any further I should probably clarify something about law enforcement in our area. Our town, like many others, has it's own police department. Even though we are a separate town from Jacksonville, the JSO (Jacksonville Sheriff's Office) also has jurisdiction here. I don't entirely understand all the reasons for having two police forces here, so I'm not going to try to explain it.

Our local police department has to deal with a lot of craziness. I've seen them put up with a lot of ridiculous behavior and still remain professional while resolving the issues. Despite the poor behavior exhibited by the officer I mentioned in my last post, my view of our local police department was that they were generally pretty good guys. That's why I was blown away by what happened this time.

The JSO on the other hand have a pretty bad reputation. This blog isn't intended to bash the men and women that risk their lives to protect us, so I hope no one takes it that way. However I don't think pretending there's not a problem will make it go away. If you want a better idea of what I'm talking about, please watch the Oscar-winning documentary called Murder on a Sunday Morning. The behavior of the JSO officers in this documentary was unfortunately not an isolated case of a few bad apples. And, no, I'm not saying this just because of my personal experience. The JSO have some serious issues and I really wish they'd straighten up their act. That said, I never expected that I'd have a run-in with the JSO.

One Saturday night, a few weeks after the encounter with the officer from the bank, I needed to run to the store for some aspirin. It was 11:30PM on Saturday, June 3rd--my 8th year anniversary of moving to Florida. I'd been working all day on a web site for someone and I had an awful toothache so I decided to drive the three blocks to the store instead of walking like I usually would.

As I walked to the car I noticed the JSO DUI unit parked at the end of the block just as he had been the last couple weekends. I didn't think anything about it because my vehicle registration was valid, my insurance was paid, I had a clean driving record, and I hadn't had anything to drink. However, when I backed out of my parking spot I noticed him start driving up the street towards me.

At the corner I put on my turn signal, made the left towards the store and made sure I was doing exactly the speed limit. 25mph, three short blocks--the walk to the store takes less than five minutes door to door, so believe me when I say they are short blocks. He made the turn and followed me closely to the next stop sign three blocks away. As I came to a stop he turned on his lights. Not wanting to block the intersection I put on my turn signal, made the right, and then immediately turned into the parking lot of the store.

When I turned into the parking lot the JSO DUI unit followed me. And he was closely followed by a police cruiser from the local police department as well as another local police officer on a golf cart. When he asked me for my ID I handed it to him and asked what was wrong, but he simply said "Stay in your car. I'll be right back." I thought it odd that he didn't ask for my registration or proof of insurance. Isn't that supposed to be standard procedure? I figured he was hoping that I'd been drinking so he could justify spending Saturday nights parked out by the beach. I stayed calm because I thought he'd probably just come back and tell me I was free to go.

Instead of coming back to the car he called to me to step out of the vehicle. As I walked over to him I looked over at the two local police officers. One was a male with white hair, and the other a female with blond hair. They were standing a little bit away and chatting quietly. The blonde was smiling as she was talking but the officer with the white hair just looked over at me with no expression.

What came next was totally unexpected. The JSO officer said, "Can you tell me any legal reason why you were driving with no lights?" My first thought was that maybe I really did forget to turn on my headlights. I asked him if he was sure, but he just plowed on.

"Can you tell me any legal reason that you were driving 32 in a 25?" he continued. But I knew for certain that I was going the speed limit. I'd been checking my clearly lit dashboard to make certain I was going the speed limit while he was following me. I guess it was a rhetorical question because he didn't wait for an answer.

"And this officer over here says she noticed you weren't wearing your seatbelt when you went through one of the intersections." At this point I was incredulous. Even before the seatbelt laws I'd always worn my seatbelt. I grew up always having to wear my seatbelt, and frankly I feel naked riding in a car without my seatbelt on, no matter how short the trip. Besides that, I clearly remembered removing my seatbelt.

I guess he was done with his list of offenses because now he finally gave me a chance to respond. I started to explain to him that because my car was a convertible, the seatbelt comes up from over the back of the seat, so you can't see it from outside the car. But the blond was having none of it. She started yelling, almost screaming, "What, you callin' me a liar, huh?"

I looked back at the officer that had pulled me over and said "Look, I'm not calling anyone a liar. I just clearly remember removing my seatbelt. I always..." But I didn't even get to finish. The blond started yelling, even closer to screaming this time, "You're callin' me a liar!" She turned to the officer with the white hair and said "He's callin' me a liar!"

I really didn't like where this was going so I decided it would be a good idea to end it. I said "Alright, I'll be the liar." Fortunately the hidden insult passed over her head, because she just went back to chatting with her partner, once again with a smile on her face.

The JSO officer then handed me my tickets, which were already written up, and in his hand the whole time we were talking. He handed them to me one at a time. "Here's the ticket for operating a vehicle with no lights after dusk. And here's the ticket for driving 32 in a 25. And here's the ticket for driving without your seatbelt." The ticket for the seatbelt listed the blond officer as the witness. Then he said some other stuff about how to pay it and how much they were going to cost me.

As he explained I glanced over at the two local officers. This time they were no longer chatting, just watching and listening as the JSO officer explained how much I was going to pay. The blonde was still smiling, as if she was proud of what she'd done, and the officer with the white hair still had the same stone cold expression that he'd had the whole time.

The odd thing is that's the part that I remember most vividly; the two local officers standing there watching. But the officer that actually gave me the tickets, I doubt if I'd even recognize him if I saw him somewhere. The smiling blonde and the other with the stone cold face I will never forget.

That's how the second clue revealed itself to me. I still didn't know what was going on at that point, but after a night of tossing and turning and a day of laying in bed trying to forget the world outside, something finally clicked into place. I'll get to that in my next post.

(to be continued)

Next post: Finding out the hard way (Part 3)

Finding out the hard way (Part 1)

In my last post I mentioned that I found out what was going on "the hard way." The upsetting thing is that it didn't have to be this way. If just one person had taken the time to inform me what was going on my life would be a lot different right now. Even more aggravating is that it appears to have been a clerical error that turned me from victim to criminal in the NCIC (the national criminal database.) I'll address that in another post. This post is about how I found out.

The first clue was revealed to me in the Spring of 2006. Based on evidence I discovered later, that's five years or more after my identity was originally used by the criminal. The clue arrived in a local police cruiser.

As I was walking out to my car one day I noticed the police cruiser parked across the street from my house. In the neighborhood I live in this is not uncommon, so I didn't think much about it at first. In fact, I've seen more police activity since I moved to this part of town than I'd seen in the previous 30+ years of my life. I've seen probably close to a dozen people arrested for who knows what and I've even seen a stun gun used on an old woman who took a swing at a police officer in the street. All this right from my front porch in a span of a little over four years.

When I had just about reached my car I heard someone calling my name. I looked around and sure enough the voice was coming from the police cruiser across the street. My first fear was that something bad had happened to a family member and that the officer had come to deliver the bad news. I never caused any trouble, had a clean driving record, and never had any dealings with the local police department so I couldn't think of any other reason that an officer would even know my name.

The officer asked me if I'd lost anything, and I said that no, I hadn't lost anything that I was aware of. Then he said "Please step over to the vehicle." I started to feel a little uncomfortable because he wasn't being forthcoming about what the problem was, but I approached his vehicle anyway--what else was I supposed to do?

When I got there he asked me again, "Are you sure you didn't lose anything?" I told him again that I wasn't aware that I'd lost anything and then I asked him if he thought I'd lost something. He pulled out my driver's license and told me that the teller at the bank had forgotten to send my ID back through the chute when I had made my deposit. Around here the banks don't have security guards, they have actual police officers in the bank at all times so it was no longer surprising that the police officer had my ID. The uneasiness began to slip away as I realized that no one was hurt and that the police officer was seemingly there to do me favor by returning my ID. It only took a couple seconds before the uneasiness started coming back.

As I reached for my ID the officer pulled it back in the car and set it down somewhere. Then he turned to me and asked me how long I'd lived here. I told him a little over three years. Then he asked where I lived before that. I told him I'd lived on the south side of Jacksonville for about five years. I wasn't sure why he wasn't giving me my ID, and something about his demeanor made me feel like he was fishing for something. So when he again asked where I'd lived before that I politely told him I'd grown up in New Jersey, and that I'd lived there my whole life before moving to Florida. Then I politely asked him why he was asking.

At this point the officer could have saved me a lot of heartache by being honest, but instead he chose to lie to me. He told me that he had been talking to a friend of his from Miami that thought he knew me, and that he was just curious if we knew each other. I told him that I'd never been to Miami so it must be someone else.

He then went on to tell me in an annoyed tone that I needed to sign something before he could give me back my ID and proceeded to get out of the car with a piece of paper. I didn't like the way he was acting at all. Now he was acting like I had been wasting his time for no reason.

He put the piece of paper on the trunk of the car, leaning with his hand on it so it wouldn't blow away, and said "Just sign here." I signed it, and as I tried to see exactly what the paper said he pulled it away, got into his car, and drove away.

I walked back to my car thinking WTF was that about? Did he simply have poor people skills? Or was he just some jerk having a bad day and taking it out on me? Or was he on some kind of fishing expedition looking for trouble in a problem neighborhood? I decided it was probably some combination of the three, but since I hadn't done anything wrong, why should I let it ruin my day?

It wasn't long after that that I noticed a police cruiser parking at the end of my block every weekend. It was a DUI unit from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, not the local police department. I certainly didn't think it was related to the visit I'd received from the local police department. Looking back, it appears I may have been wrong...

(to be continued)

Next post: Finding Out the Hard Way (Part 2)

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Think you're safe?

This is where the story begins. Or maybe I should say this is where I'm starting my story, because I still haven't been able to find out when and where it really did start.

In 2001 I was 29 years old and doing pretty well. I had a good career going, good credit, a nice big apartment on a golf course, and I was certain I'd be ready to buy a house in a year or two. Up until then I'd been working as a contractor for various financial companies in Jacksonville, FL. In the two years I'd been in Florida I worked for First Union (Wachovia,) Merrill Lynch, and Chase Manhattan. I had excellent references from each of these companies and it seldom took more than a month or two to find a new contract when my contracts were up.

In 2002 I finished up a software development job, and was looking for a new contract, but suddenly no one wanted to hire me. Well, to be more specific, there were people that said they wanted to hire me, but the story was always the same. It always went something like this: "Well, the problem is that the Human Resources department says you're not qualified for the job, and we can't hire you without their permission."

As the months passed I realized that my financial situation was getting really bad. I had to get a roommate and take a job at a liquor store just to pay the rent. Unfortunately I had a significant amount of credit card debt, and no matter how much I scrimped, there was just no way I could pay even the minimum payments.

Soon the months became years. I kept applying for jobs, but all I ended up with was a job at a bar, one at a restaurant, and one at a fly-by-night web hosting company that ended up screwing me out of a bunch of money before it went out of business. I ended up having to get a smaller place and an additional roommate just to pay the bills.

In June of 2006 I found out the hard way that there was something dirty going on, and no one had bothered to tell me. I'd been the victim of Criminal Identity Theft. Not only was my credit completely destroyed, but also my public record. At the time I'm writing this, I'm still struggling to have crimes removed from my record. And it's not just little stuff. We're talking about multiple felonies and various misdemeanors. We're talking about drug possession, strongarm robbery, and multiple counts of aggravated assault with the intent to cause serious bodily injury.

Considering all that, it's no wonder that the companies I had applied to didn't want to hire me. It's also no wonder that some of the local cops decided to have a little fun with me. More on that in my next post. I'm just too pissed off to write anymore about it right now.

Next post: Finding Out the Hard Way (Part 1)