In a world full of scams and cases of mistaken identity, no one is immune. Just like most peace officers, I have dealt a lot with the old "it wasn't me" line.
One time, it really wasn't.
I met a nice young fellow, John, during an investigation and, low and behold, he was a wanted man. I conducted all the proper steps to ensure John was the right guy and dispatch confirmed he had a warrant. When I told John he was under arrest, the rookie me saw a man trying to figure a way out of the impending arrest, but the veteran me remembers a look of incredulousness and bewilderment.
Once at the jail, I reviewed the original warrant and noted some inconsistencies. That was a problem. Some quick investigation work revealed there had been a data entry error along the way. John took it in stride and accepted my offer of a ride back home, happily taking the front seat without the silver bracelets.
Thankfully, our current enforcement activities seldom culminate in a real case of mistaken identity because of greater checks and balances and computers in every truck. However, our staff now face widespread cases of what I call identity confusion. I blame the internet and the ease of accessing information, coupled with the human tendency to trust online data.
Have you ever noticed there is a Sheridan place name in almost every state west of the Mississippi? A typical identity confusion issue might be something like this: a person asks Siri to call the “Sheridan County Sheriff’s Office." Then our deputy is talking to a nice elderly lady in Sheridan County, Arkansas, trying to explain that her grandson is not in our jail while determining if the lady has fallen victim to a scam or is simply a victim of bad Googling.
It is so commonplace that we have included an emphasized "Wyoming" in our office voicemail greeting to save everyone wasted time. I have to say, I have talked to some of the nicest people looking for the wrong Sheridan.
Now that same identity confusion seems to have entangled our office into an ongoing lawsuit. A major incident in another state involved a multi-agency law enforcement response, and somewhere along the way someone put “WY” behind the name of one of the other Sheridan County sheriff's offices.
I received an email with court directives that ordered me to provide evidence and reports about the matter. It is a bit hard to provide information we do not possess, about something we did not do, in a state that most of our staff have never visited. I felt a bit like I was the stereotypical unknowing bystander in a bad crime drama or maybe like John from my rookie years exhibiting the dumbfounded look and a forlorn plea of, "It wasn't me."
I exhibited the same incredulousness and bewilderment I had observed on his face decades ago. I read and reread the email while pondering how in the world WYOMING could be confused with Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska or any other state. Somewhere John is smiling as I am working diligently to convince these attorneys in another state, “It wasn't me."