Charges continue to haunt Detroit woman years after she was cleared

DETROIT (WXYZ) - The case against her was thrown out almost as quickly as it was brought, but years after the fact, it haunts her still.

"I just want to be able to move on with my life," she said, "and put this behind me without it haunting me and my career. That’s all I want."

She is a nurse, but doesn’t want to you see her face or know her name because it’s already been tainted, she says, by a mistake made by police.

It happened more than four years ago at a now closed motorcycle bar on 14th Street in Detroit where a veteran Detroit police officer was off the clock and drinking with friends.

According to police records, that’s where the officer met a woman in her thirties who was in trouble. He offered her a ride, then drove down the street to a rent-by-the-hour motel where the two went inside.

The officer said he passed out and, when he woke up, the mystery woman had stolen his personal vehicle and department-issued firearm.

The theft marked a major embarrassment for the officer, but police officials say gun thefts present a danger to the public.

"Anytime that a weapon is not in the hands of the proper owner, it’s a concern," said Assistant Detroit Police Chief James White.

Detroit police moved quickly to find the perpetrator and after investigating and receiving tips, they said they found her. The officer who's gun and vehicle were stolen picked her out of a lineup and, later that morning, cops went to the hospital where she worked. They had a warrant for her arrest.

"Not only was I not there, I have no idea where this place is," said the woman.  "I was at home with my husband.  I immediately started crying, I said you have the wrong person."

But the officers weren’t convinced, and told her to put her hands behind her back.

"I said 'well please,  please give me the dignity of not putting those handcuffs on me and walking me out of my job. I have to come back here'."

They cuffed her anyway, she said, and drove her to a nearby precinct where they took her prints, mug shot and prepared for her arraignment the next day. She was accused of stealing an officer’s weapons and car.

But after more than four hours of intense questioning, she says the officers finally realized they made a mistake. 

"He said, 'I think we have the wrong person. I’m sorry.  Is there anything I can do to help you? Do you want me to take you back to your job? Do you want me to take you home?'" she recalled.

The woman was released, the arraignment was canceled and soon after, police issued her a clearance letter, saying the arrest had been “discharged no case.”

Her arrest was supposed to be removed from the DPD database like it never happened.

She moved on with her life, or at least tried. But then last year, while pursuing a graduate nursing degree, university officials ran a background check. There, in black and white, were the four felonies she thought were cleared from her record.

"I received a phone call from the Christian university I attend, telling me that there was a flag that came up on my background check," she said.

"Because on paper, you’re an accused car thief, an accused gun thief," said Channel 7's Ross Jones.

"That’s exactly what it says I am on paper," she said.

Willie Bell is the President of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, which oversees DPD. Before that, he spent 32 years on the force.

"It's definitely concerning," he said. "Any time we make an arrest, we are concerned about that person being incarcerated, perhaps wrongly."

Arresting the wrong person is never okay, Bell says, but it is sometimes a reality of policing. When a wrongful arrest creates a paper trail that follows someone years later, Bell called it "unfortunate."

Officials with DPD can’t explain why the arrest keeps showing up on the woman’s background checks, and said she may have to go to court and file a motion to have her mug shot, prints and arrest records destroyed.

She said she’ll try anything to clear her name and finally move on.

"When they tell you it’s over and it’s done with, you assume that it’s gone," she said. "But it’s really not, it’s still lurking in the background, attached to my name and my career and anything else I try to do in my life."

The officer whose weapon and vehicle were stolen retired from DPD shortly after the incident, skirting any possible discipline.

Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at ross.jones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.

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