In Los Angeles, California, Maria Elena Hernandez was awakened by a loud banging at her front door. Before the sun had even risen, the woman was visited by six California Department of Insurance officers and simply hoped their incessant knocking wouldn’t wake her 14-month-old granddaughter. The Los Angeles Times relays words between the officers and Hernandez.
“‘Are you Maria Hernandez?’ one of them shouted.”
“‘Yes,’ she answered. A female officer yanked her arm, twisted it behind her back and tightened handcuffs around her wrists.”
“Why? Why? Why?’ she asked. ‘Let me go. You’re arresting the wrong person.'”
Unfortunately, it took an entire two months for authorities to realize that they had, in fact, arrested the wrong woman. Hernandez’s arrest warrant was issued by the California Department of Insurance following a mix up where they confused her with an insurance fraud suspect who had used a false date of birth and a false last name that matched Ms. Hernandez’s. Finally, last month the district attorney’s office asked a judge to dismiss the case and a spokesperson for the department, Nancy Kincaid, says that authorities have attempted to reach out to the innocent woman to give their apology for the error, stating “The department deeply regrets the error.”
The LA Times notes the nature of such mistakes and how frequently they have occurred in the state within recent months.
“Incarcerations of innocent people mistaken for wanted criminals represent a tiny fraction of the roughly 16,700 people locked up in L.A. County, and they have declined sharply from a decade ago. But, from May through July, records show, at least six people were released from jail in Los Angeles County after authorities determined they had arrested the wrong person. (That does not include people, such as Hernandez, who bailed out before authorities realized the error.)”
As noted, reforms have been made to reduce the problem after 2011, yet an investigation by the publication has uncovered that cases similar to Hernandez’s have happened nearly 1,500 times in five years. It is usually the case that those accidentally arrested and jailed are the victims of identity theft or simply share the same name as the wanted individual. The errors were also unavoidable due to authorities failing to properly check that there was a match in fingerprints between the arrested and the accused criminals.
Fingerprinting would not have helped in the case of Maria Hernandez, however. The events began in the summer of 2013. At that time a woman made a call to Access General Insurance and stated she’d been involved in a car accident and identified herself as Maria Mercedes Hernandez. The woman later admitted that she was lying about the accident to be given insurance money. Authorities had a tough time tracking the true criminal down following Ms. Hernandez’s false arrest, and the actual guilty woman who used the false name was not able to produce any identification matching her birth and identity.
Even though Ms. Hernandez has since been cleared of the crime, she had spent nearly two days in a county jail before her family could manage to bail her out. The family owes $2,000 to the bail bonds company and the former house cleaner, who is now retired, also owes $1.470 for a medical exam that had been conducted in the county jail.
Hernandez and her family recounted how they were treated when she was being arrested, noting that her 25-year-old son who asked the police for proof on the matter was met with a gun pointed at his head by officers. The family believes that the situation would have been handled much differently if they were wealthy residents of “Beverly Hills.” Hernandez shared her opinion on the issue.
“If this had happened in a different area _ say Beverly Hills _ it wouldn’t have happened like this. These people were harsh to me and my family. No one deserves what I went through.”
[Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images]