Carnell Alexander says he got a shock during a traffic stop in Detroit in the early 1990s. The officer told him he is a deadbeat dad, and that he was under arrest.
The problem? Carnell didn’t have any kids.
He’d been made dad by default after an ex listed him as father when applying for welfare benefits. According to documents filed with the court, a process server claimed to have given Carnell Alexander, in person, a notice of hearing at a house he once lived at. It is something that wasn’t possible. Carnell wasn’t at that house on the date he was allegedly served. He was incarcerated for a crime he committed as a young man.
“How can you start a case with a lie?” asked Carnell. “The mom lied. The process server lied. Now I have to pay for it."
On Tuesday, he went to the Third Judicial Circuit Court, hoping a judge would fix it.
Instead, his story inspired a different kind of outrage.
“I am outraged that Mr. Alexander for two and a half decades failed to take this matter seriously,” said Judge Kathleen McCarthy.
Judge McCarthy described how he had been to court more than a dozen times over the years. She ruled that Carnell Alexander should have filed a motion to set aside the acknowledgement of parentage long ago.
“That motion must be filed within 3 years after the child’s birth, or within one year after the order of filiation is entered. The defendant has failed to timely file this motion setting aside the acknowledgement of parentage,” said Judge McCarthy.
Because this case is now more than two and a half decades old, the judge ruled Alexander must pay. She said he did not argue against owing this money in the past.
Carnell Alexander says there is a good reason for him not filing that motion. For one, he says when he learned he was allegedly a father, he had just gotten out of prison. He had no income and no savings. He has an eighth grade education. He could not find a lawyer to help him. He was on his own. He says while he may not have filed a certain motion required by the bureaucratic court system, he did make sure Friend of the Court workers and judges on the case knew he was not this child’s father, had never been in the child’s life, and didn’t want to be held responsible.
“Every court appearance that she said I made, I made it clear to them I was not the father of this child,” said Alexander.
Carnell says when he first learned of the case against him, the court gave him an old address for the mother who claimed he had fathered a child. He went there hoping to get a DNA test to prove his story. She didn’t live there. He says the court told him it could not help him in any other way to locate the mother who said he was the father. He spent a lot of time looking for her over the years, but failed until 2013. Once he had proof, he again tried to prove his case.
“Somebody should have helped him,” said his current attorney Cherika Harris. “To continue to harass and burden him to pay for a child that is not his, when they know who the real father is now, I don’t understand this.”
The real father has been in the life of the now adult child, unlike Carnell.
Cherika Harris took on Carnell’s case pro-bono after learning about it on Seven Action News. As a result she was also surprised when the judge, while on the record, criticized our reporting.
“I am outraged at the media for the willful misrepresentations of the facts of this case,” said Judge McCarthy. “Casting this court in a negative light.”
The attorney who has volunteered hours of work for this case due to our reporting said she doesn’t see any misrepresentations.
“I just want to thank you for bringing this story forward,” said Harris, the attorney who has volunteered hours of work on this case without pay. “All you reported is factual.”
She says she took on this case because it is about more than money for child support. It is about Carnell’s constitutional rights and freedom.
She says she is relieved the attorney general recently dropped a warrant for Carnell’s arrest because he had not paid child support. She thought that would help her effort to erase the debt he owes for a child that is not his. Though court did not go as she hoped on Tuesday, and he still owes more than $30,000 in child support, she says she will file other motions.
Carnell says he understands he may owe money according to the fine print of the law, but he will never believe it is right.
“The law is not going to fit into everybody’s situation,” said Carnell. "Why don’t they use common sense?”
Seven Action News has reached out to Friend of the Court as it has covered this case. Officials have said they cannot provide interviews. They did make Carnell’s file containing summaries of what happened in court available. We have based our reporting on the facts provided in those documents and interviews with others involved.