A 35-year-old woman was arrested in Post Falls, Idaho, after police mistook her for an 18-year-old woman who was a fugitive from justice and accused of killing her infant last year.
The circumstances surrounding the mistake are tragic — Erin Peters is undergoing treatment for breast cancer, and shaved her head when her hair began to fall out from the treatment. She went to her local Walmart to shop, sporting her shaved head sans wig or hat, and ended up in handcuffs. She was questioned by police for approximately 45 minutes before they were satisfied she was not the woman they were looking for. Police stated the fugitive from justice has a shaved head, and therefore they believed Ms. Peters was the person they were looking for.
Ms. Peters said she was humiliated and embarrassed by the situation, and had no idea what was happening to her. Who police were really seeking was 18-year-old Whitley Evenson, of Independence, Mo., who is charged with the murder of her six-week-old daughter last year and has been a fugitive for two months, according to Fox News. Members of the North Idaho Violent Crimes Task Force mistook Peters for the woman solely for the reason of having a shaved head, Peters said, and the police officers told her “you don’t have to lie anymore” when she pleaded with them to look into the facts of her identity, according to the NY Daily News. Peters said she told them repeatedly that her head was shaved because she was undergoing treatment for cancer, and even gave them permission to call her physician and obtain her medical records, but she says police continued to insist she was lying. Meanwhile, a crowd at Walmart had gathered to see the spectacle of her arrest.
Peters, who is a preschool teacher, was diagnosed with breast cancer in January and had surgery to remove both breasts in August. She says that she has not received any type of apology for the horror she went through. Peters said she was obtaining an attorney, but that her main objective was not to sue, but instead perhaps cause a better way to identify possible suspects.
“I’m not looking for a major lawsuit. I just want them to admit that they were wrong and to apologize.”
Peters said it was humiliating and odd to be mistaken for the fugitive, as she is seventeen years older than the fugitive, has different colored eyes, and does not have a prominent mole on her face like the fugitive they were seeking.
Besides not receiving an apology, the task force continues to defend what happened. FBI Supervisory Senior Resident Agent Richard Collodi said that he believes the officers acted professionally and that suspects often lie and make up stories to get out of trouble, so that’s why officers likely did not believe Ms. Peters about her health condition.
The taskforce had received a tip that the fugitive had shaved her head and was at the Walmart in question, and when they saw Peters, they immediately arrested her. She said they “ransacked” all of her personal belongings, including her purse, and going through messages on her cell phone.
“I felt humiliated in front of Walmart, crying… the way they went about this was so wrong.”
Although she received no apology, Agent Collodi said he understood that it was likely uncomfortable and embarrassing for Ms. Peters, but that police had to be sure before they let her go.
The fugitive in question was also at the Walmart along with a man who had numerous weapons on him, and they both were taken into custody without incident.
[Featured Image by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]