FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — The Forsyth County sheriff has ordered an internal investigation after a woman said deputies wrongly detained her for a crime she didn’t commit.
The woman posted about her experience Monday on Facebook, and someone sent the post to Channel 2′s Mike Petchenik, who tracked her down and questioned the sheriff’s office about what happened.
“My husband and I were asleep in the bed. And my dog, who stays outside in a crate, woke me up because he was barking,” said the woman, who asked Petchenik not to identify her. “He (her husband) took his pistol off the nightstand and went to answer the door. When he went to answer the door, three Forsyth County sheriff’s deputies were there. When they saw he had a gun, they said to put his gun down and his hands up.”
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She said the deputies were asking for her. And when she came downstairs, they told her they had a warrant for her arrest.
“My husband asked what the charges were, and it was robbery by intimidation, which we later found was purse snatching is actually what happened,” she said.
That’s when she said her husband asked if the deputies had the correct person because they were aware of at least one other person in Forsyth County with the same name.
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“When they came back, they said, ‘No, ma’am, the warrant is for your arrest.’ So at that point, the three officers took a step back from me, put hands on their guns and another one put handcuffs on me.”
As they were taking her to the car to transport her to jail, she said her husband pressed them again about the mistaken identity. And eventually, she said they took another look at the information and realized she was, in fact, the wrong person.
“They told me, ‘Be careful if you go out today because you still have an active warrant for robbery. And if you get pulled over today, they’re going to pull you out of the car at gunpoint,’” she said. “Slapping handcuffs on someone isn’t something you should take lightly. I wasn’t being combative. I didn’t need to be restrained. I wasn’t trying to hurt them.”
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Petchenik reached out to the sheriff’s office, and it sent him a statement:
“The Sheriff’s Office is aware of the incident where the individual was detained and the Office of Professional Standards is looking into the situation. Sheriff Freeman has spoken with the family and will meet with them at a later date when it is convenient to them.”
The woman told Petchenik she hopes something comes from the inquiry.
“I want them to do better,” she said “I want them to have better training and mainly do their due diligence. Don’t take the word of a known criminal over the word of a citizen who has lived here for years and years and years.”
Atlanta-based defense attorney Esther Panitch told Petchenik cases of mistaken identity happen more often than we are aware.
“It’s not just in somebody’s home. It’s at the side of the road. It’s people being pulled over because their car has been in a BOLO,” she said. “Unless someone is shot or killed, the public doesn’t normally hear about it.”
Panitch said if it happens to you, it’s important to comply with law enforcement and de-escalate the situation.
“You’re not going to win the fight against the cop who has the gun and the authority. You’re just not going to,” she said.
As for recourse, Panitch said it’s likely the woman will not get much more than an apology because of Georgia law.
“Georgia has qualified immunity,” she said. “That protects police officers and other agents of the government from mistakes.”