Hobbs News Sun

N.M. woman mistakenly jailed for 49 days in Lea County and Arizona sues

N.M. woman mistakenly jailed for 49 days in Lea County and Arizona sues

A New Mexico woman is suing Lea County and the City of Hobbs after she was incarcerated for 49 days in two states on an Arizona bench warrant that resulted from identity theft. She claims her protests to law enforcement and jail officials about her wrongful detention were not heeded.

A 24-page lawsuit filed by law firm Rothstein Donatelli LLP, on behalf of Valencia County resident Joy Morales, seeks trial and damages against several defendants with Lea County and the City of Hobbs based on deprivation of civil rights and other “tortious” conduct in late 2015 and early 2016 following a Hobbs traffic stop. It claims Morales was wrongfully detained in Lea County for weeks despite requests for authorities to check out her stolen identity situation.

The defendants listed in the lawsuit are: Lea County Board of County Commissioners; Warden Padraig Downey (official capacity, now retired); The City of Hobbs, Hobbs Police Department; Chief Chris McCall (official capacity); Hobbs officer Jayson Hoff; jail administrator Dorothy Apodaca (official capacity) and several unidentified “John Doe” detention officers. It was originally filed last fall in Lovington district court, but moved to New Mexico district court earlier this year.

Albuquerque civil rights attorney Cammie Nichols, who represents Morales, said the goal is to get recognition for Morales of the fact that she was held for more than a month and during the holidays. She said Morales tried to “express herself to whoever would listen.” Nichols said once somebody did that, it became obvious and they “let her out right away,” in Arizona.

“Meanwhile, before that happened, both Arizona and New Mexico — she just felt like nobody was listening to her,” Nichols said. “And so, this is really an opportunity for her to be heard and get some kind of justice for having to go through that.”

THE LAWSUIT REPORTS a woman named Devanne Archibeque used Morales’ identity when Archibeque was stopped in Arizona on Feb. 27, 2014 and was arrested by Arizona Department of Public Safety on an aggravated DUI charge. At the time, Archibeque had an active arrest warrant out of Albuquerque and did not have any identification on her. She gave Morales’ name and date of birth, was arrested and booked at Yavapai County jail in Arizona. Archibeque was someone she knew in high school more than 20 years ago, but they hadn’t kept in touch.

It led to an Arizona bench warrant for Morales being issued. A complaint from Archibeque’s arrest was filed against Morales in April 2015 and, being “completely unaware” of them, Morales did not appear on the false charges. The warrant led to Morales’ arrest on different occasions.

The lawsuit notes Morales reported her identity stolen on Feb. 2014 in New Mexico, having gotten a traffic citation and subsequent warrant through the false use of her identity. She was arrested in July 2014 on a warrant related to a December 2013 traffic citation. It was later dismissed by Bernalillo Metropolitan District Court due to identity theft. Then, in or around August 2015, Morales was arrested on the Arizona warrant with a fugitive complaint filed against her in Valencia County. The county magistrate court dismissed the fugitive complaint because of the identity theft.

Months later, on Nov. 20 2015, Morales was traveling in Hobbs when she was stopped for an alleged “California stop” traffic violation. The Hobbs police officer, identified as Jayson Hoff, did a background check and found the active Arizona warrant.

“Plaintiff protected Hoff’s arrest and notified Hoff of her stolen identity. At the time of her arrest in Hobbs, New Mexico, publicly available records, including New Mexico law enforcement and court records, would verify Plaintiff’s claims of mistaken identity,” the lawsuit reads. “Furthermore, a simple comparison of Plaintiff’s physical characteristics to the booking photography and other booking information related to the Arizona Warrant would verify Plaintiff’s claims of mistaken identity.”

The lawsuit argues the officer did not “undertake a reasonable” investigation to find out the validity of Morales’ mistaken identity claim. Morales then was booked at the Hobbs City Jail where she asked detention officers to compare arrest records and fingerprints to verify her claim. None of them conducted any “reasonable investigation” into the claim, states the lawsuit.

Hoff swore to a fugitive complaint for Morales that was filed into magistrate court and Morales was arraigned Nov. 23, 2015 on it. At the hearing, the lawsuit states Morales denied she was subject to extradition on the fugitive warrant.

“AT SAID HEARING, PLAINTIFF implored authorities again to compare readily available records to verify her credible claim of mistaken identity,” it states. “Her pleas were ignored, and a release order and bond was entered in which the Magistrate Judge found no bond was appropriate.”

It adds that Morales was remanded to custody of the Lea County Detention Center and booked again. The lawsuit also states an electronic version of Morales’ fingerprints were sent to Yavapai County, Ariz., in late November for verification while a hard copy was sent through mail in early December. It asserts that defendants “failed to obtain that verification.”

In early December 2015, Morales submitted an “inmate request form” at LCDC that concerned her identity theft and it requested LCDC to order booking photo and fingerprints from Arizona, but received a response approved by Warden Paddy Downey to “Talk to your attorney [sic].”

“Plaintiff continued to protest her innocence and claim mistaken identity, as had previously been verified by other courts and law enforcement agencies in New Mexico. Upon information and belief, neither Lea County, nor Warden Downey, nor John Doe Correctional Officers nor any other person employed by Lea County at the LCDC undertook a reasonable investigation into Plaintfif’s credible claim of mistaken identity,” it states.

In the following weeks, the lawsuit asserts Morales made another request form “begging for an attorney” and that she hadn’t spoken to one since her arrest, which received a response to “Write them a letter.”

“Plaintiff’s protestations and Defendants’ failure to undertake a reasonable investigation into the same lasted throughout her entire time in custody in LCDC,” it reads.

Morales later received a public defender appointment and her family also contacted Lea County authorities with concerns about the mistaken identity, including correspondence and documentation.

“Defendants still took no action or investigation into Plaintiff’s credible claims, including, upon information and belief failing to conduct a simple examination of readily available booking photographs and fingerprints,” it reads.

On Dec. 21, 2015, Lea County magistrate court entered an extension order for Morales’ extradition to Arizona to where it had to be done within a 60-day period. At a court hearing, Morales protested detention and extradition citing mistaken identity, but her “protestations fell on deaf ears and she was pressured to accept extradition.”

THE LAWSUIT STATES MORALES “reasonably believed” she had no choice, but to accept extradition. It also alleges Morales was subjected to harassment and sexual assault between Nov. 20-Dec. 23, 2015 that occurred in parts of the facility, including her cell.

“Plaintiff repeatedly requested to be moved to another cell in order to escape the continued harassment and assault,” it reads. “The abuse was noticed by other inmates, who also noted Plaintiff’s attempts to procure a transfer to another cell to avoid the same. For a significant length of time, the Defendants ignored (Morales’) requests and allowed her to be subjected to repeated harassment and assault while (she) was wrongfully imprisoned by them.”

On Dec. 31, 2015, Morales was transported to the airport for extradition to Arizona and continued her claims of mistaken identity, but a “reasonable investigation” was not conducted by defendants during the transfer process. In early January 2016, it states an examination of booking information, like fingerprints, verified her claims, and Morales was released from custody with all charges dismissed.

The lawsuit states the defendants’ actions caused Morales to be held unlawfully at Hobbs City Jail and Lea County Detention Center from Nov. 20-Dec. 31, 2015 for 42 days where she suffered “strip searches and other violations.” She was then held unlawfully in Yavapai County, Ariz., from Dec. 31, 2015 to Jan. 7, 2016 for a total of 49 days.

“Due to the acts and/or omissions of all Defendants, Plaintiff suffered significant injuries and damages, including, but not limited to, severe emotional and mental distress, the loss of her automobile, the loss of her home, lost income, and the loss of holiday time with her family and son,” the lawsuit states.

The News-Sun reached out to the Lea County and the City of Hobbs regarding the Morales lawsuit.

Meghan Mooney, City of Hobbs Communications Director, stated the city “is not at liberty” to respond to the News-Sun request due to pending litigation, while Lea County Attorney John Caldwell said attorney Amy Glasser is representing the county. Glasser, who practices out of Albuquerque, confirmed Thursday that she represents Lea County.

“That is the case (regarding her representation), but I cannot comment on any pending litigation,” Glasser said.

Morales also filed a separate lawsuit in Arizona that settled for an undisclosed amount, Nichols confirmed.