Jail

Her Ex Was the Wanted Man. So Why Did This Mom Spend Easter Weekend in Jail?

"What started out as a clerical error magnified into a very regrettable and Kafkaesque mistake."

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Thanks to a clerical error, a mother of two in upstate New York spent three nights in jail over Easter weekend. She didn't commit any crimes. Someone just accidentally entered her name on the wrong line of a document.

The story began last Friday evening, when Jessica Donovan got into an argument with employees at a pizza shop near her home. She thought the restaurant owed her a free pie; the employees disagreed. She eventually stopped trying and walked out, knocking over a trash can on her way out. She claims the employees had been swearing at her, and that this was part of why she was so upset.

The pizzeria employees then called the cops, who came to Donovan's home in Colonie, a suburb of Albany. They weren't planning to arrest her over the incident. But when they ran her name through the police database, they discovered a warrant was out for her arrest.

Here's the problem. The November 2018 warrant was actually meant for John Gannon Jr., Donovan's ex-boyfriend, who had allegedly been neglecting to pay her child support. The document lists Donovan as the petitioner and Gannon as the respondent, but the wrong name has inserted into a crucial sentence: "You are therefore commanded to arrest Jessica L. Donovan, and bring said person before this court to be dealt with according to law."

"I said I have custody of my kids," Donovan tells the Albany Times Union. "They told me the date of the warrant, and I said I was there that day when they signed the warrant [to arrest Gannon]. I said 'I have proof'…but they wouldn't take my proof."

Even after she was arrested, Donovan should have been released the next day, right? Nope. The Colonie Police took her to appear before a town justice the next morning. The judge set her bail at $500, which Donovan's mother was ready and willing to pay. But jail officials wouldn't let her go. They said the matter had to be settled by the family court, where the incorrect warrant had been issued.

"Our staff did not take the bail because it being a superior court warrant, there's nothing really that could've been done because her name was the one that was to be arrested and brought forthwith in front of the family court judge," Albany County Sheriff Tim Apple tells WNYT. "Obviously family court is not in session."

So Donovan spent Easter weekend in jail. It was a harrowing experience. "It was dirty, puke on the floor, no one cleaned it, ugh the toilet was just, oh my God," she says to WRGB. Donovan also did not have access to her anti-depressant medication and was placed on suicide watch. "I didn't sleep. I didn't eat a single thing. I didn't drink water. I think I had one serving of milk so that I didn't pass out," she tells the Times Union.

On Monday, Donovan was released after appearing in family court. The New York State Office of Court Administration's director of public information, Lucian Chalfen, issued the following statement to WNYT:

What started out as a clerical error magnified into a very regrettable and Kafkaesque mistake. The name of the petitioner, as opposed to the respondent, ended up on the line ordering police to execute the warrant, which the Judge signed. He is mortified about what transpired and has been counseled by the Administrative Judge for the Judicial District covering Albany. A corrected warrant has since been issued. While it is difficult to mitigate human error, we are looking into the process to see about additional safeguards.

It's not unheard of for administrative mix-ups to result in police arresting the wrong suspects. Earlier this week, Reason's Zuri Davis wrote about an Ohio woman, Ashley Foster, who was mistaken for a different woman by the same name and arrested for alleged drug trafficking. She spent a week in jail, lost her job, and had her kids temporarily taken away.

Both Winn and Apple have expressed their regret over what happened to Donovan. But words only go so far. "Somebody messed up," Donovan tells the Times Union. "I honestly want somebody to pay for that."

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31 responses to “Her Ex Was the Wanted Man. So Why Did This Mom Spend Easter Weekend in Jail?

  1. Of course, the solution to this is to not throw men in prison for not paying child support.

    1. Everything the State does is eventually backed by death. Prison is just a previous step.

      Even private prosecution could eventually end in death, simply because someone, somewhere, entered the wrong name in the wrong place in the wrong form, or garbled a radio command, or there were two people with the same name.

      You can’t prevent accidents like this. All you can do, and which should be done with government officials, is hold them accountable. Make them pay the damages personally, or through insurance which they pay, and whose premiums can rise so high that no one will pay it and they can’t be hired.

      Accidents happens. Mistakes are made. Accountability is lacking.

      1. Too bad her medication wasn’t a benzodiazepine… 3 days of cold turkey from those can cause actual brain damage, if not death.

  2. “While it is difficult to mitigate human error, we are looking into the process to see about additional safeguards for the people who fucked up.”

    FTFY

  3. Our overlords do not make mistakes.

    1. They went back to Metric without telling us!

  4. “I honestly want somebody to pay for that.”

    The big problem is that she will end up paying part of that tab herself, as the bill will go to the taxpayers, not the official(s) who screwed up.

  5. She didn’t commit any crimes. Someone just accidentally entered her name on the wrong line of a document.

    Harry Buttle.

    1. It’s not my fault that Buttle’s heart condition didn’t appear on Tuttle’s file!

  6. “The name of the petitioner, as opposed to the respondent, ended up on the line ordering police to execute the warrant, which the Judge signed. He is mortified about what transpired and has been counseled by the Administrative Judge for the Judicial District covering Albany.”

    I’m sure that this is what they would do to any kidnapper – give him some counseling and send him on his way.

    1. “He got counseling and he feels bad, hasn’t this guy suffered enough?”

      1. “Don’t you sick people get it?!?! He feels bad!! What the hell is wrong with all of you?!?!?!”

  7. Maybe she wont trash a restaurant next time

    1. And maybe you should feel grateful that Reason has not banned you for that missing apostrophe and period.

      Proportionality, dude.

      1. That’s why we need Tim Cavanaugh back.

    2. Yeah, she’s probably going to be looking over her shoulder for the rest of her life. Yer right, Tiger, she totally had it coming.

  8. The name of the petitioner, as opposed to the respondent, ended up on the line ordering police to execute the warrant

    As opposed to: “A person, formerly employed here as a so-called professional, entered the name of the petitioner, as opposed to the respondent, on the line ordering police to execute the warrant.”

    1. You are supposed to believe that her name entered itself on the wrong line of the form.

      It’s the classic “Mistakes were made”, but we are going to pretend that no actual person made them.

  9. Richard Rivera, the judge who signed the arrest warrant, is an up-and-coming jurist:

    “Judge Richard Rivera has been named supervising judge for Domestic Violence Courts and Mentor Courts for the Third Judicial District of New York….

    “Judge Rivera was elected to Albany County’s Family Court bench in 2014 and designated an acting Supreme Court justice on January 1, 2019. He has been serving as presiding judge of both the Family Court’s Domestic Violence Part and Youth Part, duties he will continued to fulfill in addition to his new assignment.”

    https://www.midhudsonnews.com/News/2019/January/21/Rivera_ThirdJD-21Jan19.html

    1. From a puff piece in 2015: “For more than a decade now, Rivera has focused his career on helping other people’s families and children.”

      http://news.colgate.edu/scene/2015/04/his-honor.html

      1. Sometimes the other people’s families and children don’t want his help so he has to force them to accept his help at gunpoint. Which makes him no different than several million other government employees.


  10. “Somebody messed up,” Donovan tells the Times Union. “I honestly want somebody to pay for that.”

    Don’t worry. They won’t.

  11. Information Transit got to wrong man. I got the right man. The ‘wrong man’ was delivered to me as the ‘right man.’ I accepted him on good faith as the ‘right man.’ Was I wrong?

  12. “”Our staff did not take the bail because it being a superior court warrant, there’s nothing really that could’ve been done because her name was the one that was to be arrested and brought forthwith in front of the family court judge,” Albany County Sheriff Tim Apple tells WNYT.”

    In other words: “All policies and procedures were followed.”

  13. I think this goes a little beyond a Tuttle/Buttle style mistake.

    A cantankerous, violent single mother on antidepressants and child support. She’s now married to the state. I hope she enjoys her new husband. She won’t be able to divorce him as easily.

    1. “She’s now married to the state.”

      She knows how to pick’em. Divorce is automatic when the kid turns 18, 21, 26, paid college or thirtysomething these days.

      Warning. If you get divorced you may owe your kids a college education by force.

  14. “They weren’t planning to arrest her over the incident.”

    Then why the fuck did the cops go to her house? Intimidation, threats, counseling, look for other crimes, tell her “we know watcha did”, or just instill paranoia and more disdain for cops. Either way, it was a success.

    What was the point of contacting her? If the pizza place was not pressing charges then end of story. Presumably, she would not come back if so dis-satisfied or the staff could simply tell her she was not welcome next time without a need to track her down and threaten with a warning.

    There is definitely a debtor’s prison when the state becomes your collection agency.

  15. If that state has compensation laws for wrongful imprisonment, she should get 3/365ths of the annual payment. e.g. if they give people 50,000/year for being wrongly imprisoned, they owe her $410.96.

  16. I don’t know what, if anything, her practical legal recourse is or should be. But what feels right, assuming they can identify the person who made the error, is for him to spend three days in the same jail.

  17. God forbid someone call the judge on Easter weekend and have him fix his fuck up.

    1. Well, yeah. The Judges aren’t union are they?

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