The Clay County Sheriff’s Office has arrested the wrong person.
This time, the sheriff’s office extradited Ashley Nicole Chiasson, a 28-year-old single mother of two, from her home state of Louisiana in January and jailed her for 28 days before being convinced they had the wrong person.
Then during a previously scheduled May status hearing related to the charge that was being dropped, Chiasson was wrongly arrested again in a different case.
She spent another week in jail in a county she had never been to before her extradition.
“How can you falsely accused me of something that I didn’t do?” Chiasson said in a telephone interview with the Times-Union Tuesday. “And you’re ruining my life. How can you do that?”
The circumstances were similar to when Clay County teenager Cody Lee Williams was arrested in August 2013. In both cases, the wrongly arrested person had the same first and last name as someone else the Sheriff’s Office was seeking.
Chiasson’s civil attorney, Andrew Bonderud, sent the Sheriff’s Office a letter of intent to sue on Monday.
Hours after the Times-Union began requesting documents for the Chiasson case from the Clay County clerk of courts on Tuesday, the Sheriff’s Office issued a news release. The statement said the office released Chiasson after discovering the error.
Clay County Sheriff Rick Beseler apologized to Chiasson in the statement.
“In these cases it appears that short-cuts were taken by the detectives during the suspect identification process and a thorough investigation into the identity of the suspect was not completed before the warrants were obtained,” he said. “The result was the wrong person was accused of crimes she didn’t commit.”
When the Times-Union interviewed Beseler in February about the wrongful arrest of Cody Williams, he stressed how rare such a mistake was for his agency. The sheriff’s office’s general counsel, Jim Pimentel, said in February the agency had only one other allegation of wrongful arrest in 10 years; a 2009 case.
Chiasson was released from jail after the first wrongful arrest less a week before the Times-Union interviewed Beseler for the story about Williams and received that information from Pimentel.
Through a spokeswoman, Beseler declined to answer Times-Union questions. In his written statement, Beseler said the officers involved in the Chiasson case would be held accountable and that new measures and revised policies would be adopted to prevent future wrongful arrest like Chiasson’s. The names of the officers weren’t released.
Chiasson was not moved by Beseler’s apology.
She said the arrests have caused her to lose her home, she got into fights while jailed, her daughter’s grades suffered and her daughter now seeing a counselor because of her mother’s abrupt absence.
“I lost everything,” she said.
“It makes me feel like I’m the worst person in the world to my children,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion.
While Chiasson has had brushes with the law, she doesn’t have a felony record, according to her attorney.
Public Defender Matt Shirk’s office represented Chiasson during both wrongful arrests. He praised his attorneys and an investigator who helped determined the errors in Chiasson’s case.
“We are very concerned that now two documented incidents, in a matter of months, of law-abiding citizens being held in jail for something they didn’t do,” he said. “Hopefully we can get some answers as to why it happened.”
Bonderud, Chiasson’s civil attorney, said he appreciated Besler’s statement, but that it doesn’t go far enough and an apology is insufficient.
“Make no mistake about it, this is no longer the result of isolated misconduct,” Bonderud said.
Bonderud said Besler’s statement is incorrect when it says a thorough investigation into the Chiasson’s identity hadn’t been completed prior to a warrant being obtained for his client
“The Sheriff’s Office had a face-to-face meeting with the real perpetrator and during that meeting the Sheriff’s Office obtained extensive information about the real perpetrator.”
A report by the Public Defender’s office highlights an August 2013 interview the Sheriff’s Office conducted with a woman named Ashley Chiasson in reference to the grand theft charge.
Bonderud said the real perpetrator was in Clay County and he doesn’t know why his client was transported from Louisiana on the charge.
“How on Earth does that happen? It’s inexplicable,” he said. “There is widespread practice of abuse going on.”
He said the affidavit for arrest contains all of his client’s information, despite the Sheriff’s Office knowing the details for the actual suspect.
Kyle Bedran, one of the public defenders who worked on Chiasson’s case, said his office was able to produce medical records showing Chiasson was in an Arkansas hospital at the time of the initial grand theft incident for which Chiasson was arrested.
But at a subsequent court date to help clear up the first false arrest, Chiasson was arrested again, this time for a bad check written at a bank.
And again, the sherrif’s office arrested the wrong person.
“How can they make the second mistake, again?”, Chaisson said. “I don’t understand how they can just re-arrest me for something I didn’t do, without fingerprints, without anything.”
Bedran said Chiasson might have spent another month in jail had it not been for the work of the public defender’s investigator assigned to the case.
The Ashley O. Chiasson who the sheriff’s office intended to arrest is still being sought by the agency. That Ashley Chiasson is several years older and about 5 inches taller than the Ashley N. Chiasson the agency wrongly jailed twice.
“They didn’t show the bank manager a photo of our girl,” Bedran said. “They just went off the name.”
Ashley N. Chiasson is looking forward to putting the wrongful arrests behind her.
“It was the worst thing in my life.”
The following is a statement released Tuesday by the Clay County Sheriff’s Office:
“The Clay County Sheriff’s Office has discovered that a person was arrested by members of our agency and wrongfully accused on two occasions of crimes she did not commit. Ms. Ashley Nicole Chiasson of Louisiana shares the first and last name and general physical characteristics of another woman. The other woman (not yet arrested) is the actual perpetrator and the investigation into her involvement into these financial type crimes is ongoing. As the result of the discovery of these errors all charges against Chiasson were dropped on June 6, 2014 by the State Attorney’s Office in Clay County and she was released.”
The following is a statement from Clay County Sheriff Rick Beseler:
“In these cases it appears that short-cuts were taken by the detectives during the suspect identification process and a thorough investigation into the identity of the suspect was not completed before the warrants were obtained. The result was the wrong person was accused of crimes she didn’t commit. I extend to Ashley Nicole Chiasson my sincere apology for this error. We will seek to make things right for her. An internal investigation began immediately and a full review of how proper investigative procedures were not followed is underway. Those responsible will be held accountable. New measures, safeguards and revised policies will be adopted that will prevent this from occurring again in the future.”