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Fla. sheriff's office arrests wrong woman - twice

Wednesday, June 11, 2014 11:05 AM
Last updated 6:18 PM
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They’ve done it again.

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Ashley Nicole Chiasson with her two children.  Special/Ashley Nicole Chiasson
Special/Ashley Nicole Chiasson
Ashley Nicole Chiasson with her two children.

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.”

Read Chiasson’s letter from her lawyer alerting the sheriff’s office she intends to sue the agency:

Intent to sue

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IBeDogGone 06/11/14 - 11:37 am
Brushes With The Law

I do not care if Ashley Chiasson was a convicted felon she should not be arrested for a crime she did not commit. The damages done to this woman can not be paid back with Money.

LLArms 06/11/14 - 12:58 pm
No, but money is a good

No, but money is a good start. She can rebuild her life with a good chunk of money and she deserves every penny. However I hope everyone understands where the settlement money is going to come from right?

The citizens of those counties should be extremely upset as they will be the ones footing the bill at the end of the day.

GiantsAllDay 06/11/14 - 01:09 pm
I hope everyone reads this

I hope everyone reads this article carefully if they want to understand who is in control in our society. Here is just one paragraph from the article:
"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."
So there you have it. The police run the entire show in this society. Not the judges, not the elected officials, but the police. They and they alone decide who gets put in jail, who stays in and who gets released. They no longer should be referred to as "police". Para-military is a more accurate term. Read that one paragraph again. Does anyone REALLY believe that those two detectives will be disciplined in any way? The absolute worse punishment they are looking at is a letter in their files and no doughnuts for a week.

The Mick
The Mick 06/11/14 - 03:55 pm
Giants, the police do not run

Giants, the police do not run the show. The lawyers do, and they are gonna have a judge tell the police exactly how much to pay this woman. And she deserves every penny! Man Clay County Florida is a circus.

myfather15 06/11/14 - 05:00 pm

"The police run the entire show in this society. Not the judges, not the elected officials, but the police."

This sentence alone, just discredited his entire comment. Yes, police do things wrong; any profession where there is ONE MILLION people employed, corruption will be present and mistakes will be made. But to say that POLICE, run the show more than politicians, lawyers and judges is absolutely insane!! Federal statistics say less than 2% of the total LE force is corrupt. That's actually less than doctor's, lawyers and financial advisors!!

Police officer's careers have been ended because they arrested the wrong politician, lawyer or judge. SOME police officers might be soldiers for those big wigs, but most are NOT!!

GiantsAllDay 06/11/14 - 11:14 pm
<2% of cops are corrupt. I

<2% of cops are corrupt. I guess that gives great comfort to the 20 of every 1000 that have been screwed over by the cops. What a great job. Don't do it again officer. You in convinced people.

GiantsAllDay 06/11/14 - 11:19 pm
MyFather15, BUT when you make

BUT when you make a mistake, it affects somebody's life differently than when the cashier at Wendy's makes a mistake, correct?

foxsilong 06/12/14 - 01:59 am
Apology doesn't solve everything

That's why convicted criminals can't just send a "apology statement" to the sheriff office and call it a day.

Airman 06/12/14 - 07:08 am
Poor girls

I feel for her daughters. Very traumatic. Clay county needs to pay for her damages, ie counseling for the children , for the victim . The officers need to pay a price for being lazy. Maybe lock them up in another state for 28 days so they make sure they have the right person next time

corgimom 06/12/14 - 07:20 am


myfather15 06/12/14 - 07:48 am
Oooh, I agree!! By the

Oooh, I agree!! By the information we have in this report; they definately need to pay this woman!! It appears very much that they didn't do their due diligence during the investigation.

But, unlike others; I'm not going to bash ALL law enforcement for THEIR ridiculous actions!! In Country with 320 million people, there are going to be mistakes, unfortunately!!


"BUT when you make a mistake, it affects somebody's life differently than when the cashier at Wendy's makes a mistake, correct?"

Yes, it sure does. But why do you choose only the cashier at Wendy's as an example??

When doctor's screw up, it can cost your life, right? Do they screw up quite frequently?

What about lawyers? People's live depend on their services, yet MANY lawyers are werth an empty shoe box!! Many of them fail to file the paperwork in time, neglect to bring in certain evidence, and the list could go on!!

Please GAD, name me a profession where the entire profession is PERFECT!! Every single individual in the profession is perfect, never making a mistake and human error is eliminated!!

Again; you'll never hear me say that ALL LE officers are perfect or honorable!! We need to do our duties with honor and integrity!! We ALL need to do our jobs with due diligence to ensure innocent parties aren't harmed!! Do ALL officer's do this? Unfortunately, they don't. But as a LE officer, all I can hope is that they are exposed and removed from the profession. But I know from EXPERIENCE and statistics, that the overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers are not corrupt and do not abuse their profession.

GiantsAllDay 06/12/14 - 09:03 am
MyFather15,I was only

I was only stating that these detectives' boss will not admit to anything. These guys will be back arresting people in no time. So, MyFather15, I appoint your sheriff of Clay County for a day. How would YOU handle this? (Personally, I think if you were sheriff of Richmond County, this place would be a better place to live. :-)

internationallyunknown 06/12/14 - 10:21 am
Black People and Minorities in America

...only when this happens to someone who looks like her, will it receive media coverage.

thauch12 06/12/14 - 11:10 am

Not quite sure what "A certain POSTER'S" sudden vendetta against physicians came from...

Unfortunately, when a doctor screws up, 1) we pay a hefty monetary fine (and believe it or not in a civil case, the vultures will go after your house, cars, etc), 2) the stigma of being a physician with a malpractice judgment against you stays with you for the rest of your life and makes you essentially unhireable, and 3) 10+ years of sacrifice and very expensive schooling goes down the drain.
Now you tell me one other profession that is held to such a high standard. Newsflash, you can't. This is part of the reason why medicine is consistently ranked the world's most respected field.

Moreover, besides actually paying for mistakes when they are made, a physician's blunder does not automatically limit another person to second-class citizenship. Pain and suffering is one thing, but people don't realize that nearly every job worth having not only asks if one has a criminal record, but if they have been arrested. With the rise of the internet and gossip-mongering sites like the Jail Report, this kind of stuff does not just go away.

This is why I feel so badly for this poor woman. The saddest part about this is that even if she gets monetary compensation for this, it is going to come from the taxpayers, NOT the inept people actually responsible for this.

Side note: The use of common sense and a little reading comprehension will be most beneficial when reading this post.

GiantsAllDay 06/12/14 - 11:23 am
thauch12, EXACTLY!! go thy

EXACTLY!! go thy way and sin no more.... A letter in their files and a week without donuts is NOT a punishment in my humble opinion. They FREAKJING took her LIBERTY away from her and cops everywhere sleep with a clear conscience at night.. DISGUSTING...

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