GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. – It can happen to anyone. You could be driving along when out of nowhere the sound and flashing lights of freedom emanate from behind. For some unknown reason you have attracted the attention of a police officer. Like a good citizen, you pull over and wait patiently on the cop. The officer says you’re being pulled over because of a broken taillight. You deny prior knowledge and the officer decides to let you off with a warning. First the officer needs to make sure that you’re clean. The cop runs your information and lo and behold, finds out there is a warrant for your arrest. You protest your innocence but the cop is already in go-mode. The officer takes you in for booking. You are fingerprinted and than locked away for later. Surely there are measures authorities can take to prevent a case of mistaken identity from going too far. There must be a series of checks and balances to verify the identity of everyone that is put away.
That is what Jessica Ellison hoped for after her run in with Gwinnett County cops. Her ordeal began with a routine traffic stop over a broken taillight. A cascade of events found Ellison spending two days in jail in a case of mistaken identity. Ellison’s attorney, Nathan Lock, said, “This reads as the script for some kind of dark comedy, where your protagonist cannot get anything to go right.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:
Ellison, a property manager from Jonesboro, was driving through Gwinnett County on the afternoon of June 21, 2016, when she got stopped near Duluth by GCPD Officer Mark Ferrell. Ferrell told her she had a tail light out and he was going to give her a warning, but that needed to run her license.
According to Ferrell’s incident report, he subsequently found a warrant out of Bartow County for a woman named Jessica Ellison. The birthdates matched, and dispatch verified the warrant — for failure to appear on a then-three-year-old shoplifting charge — was still active.
Ellison was taken to jail.
Only one problem, she and her lawyer now say: the warrant was for a Jessica Ellis. No “-on.”
Ellison is now suing, and with the help of her attorney, Nathan Lock, the Jonesboro resident has a case. Named as defendants in the lawsuit is Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway, Corizon Health, which at the time of the incident provided health care services at the jail, and Gwinnett County police Officer Mark Ferrell. The suit alleges negligence on the part of everyone involved.
Ellison repeatedly told officers of the error during her booking but her pleas fell on deaf ears. After fingerprinting, no one thought to compare the prints with that of the wanted Jessica Ellis. Everyone just assumed another bad guy was off the streets.
“There’s a lot of different things that could’ve been verified that would’ve distinguished the two,” Lock said.
Ellison spent the next two days rotting in a cell waiting on police to realize their mistake. During that time, the lawsuit alleges that Ellison was not allowed her phone call. This left her family in the dark for two days not knowing what happened to her. Ellison lost her job over “job abandonment” unable to communicate with the outside about the ordeal.
She was also denied medical attention and care according to the lawsuit. Ellison takes supplements to prevent seizures and didn’t have meds on her while locked up. She requested to see a nurse but her request was repeatedly denied. Fortunately, Ellison didn’t suffer a seizure in jail. She did have one however shortly after being sprung from the “Big House”.
A Bartow County deputy came to transport her and upon double checking her information, immediately identified her as the wrong person.
The sheriff’s office and police department both declined to comment on the mistaken identity.