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False arrest can happen anywhere

It could happen in New Jersey, but this story takes place in Atlanta. A woman was held in the Fulton County Jail for 53 days even after the alleged victim told police that she was not the person who had attacked him. The case fell through the cracks in almost every way possible, resulting in the wrongful arrest of Teresa Culpepper for assault.

Like many wrongful arrest cases, this one arose initially because of similar names. Culpepper called police to report a stolen truck, and Atlanta officer Jaidon Codrington went to her house to take the report. Later that day, Angelo Boyd called police to report that his girlfriend, Teresa Gilbert, had thrown hot water over him. The same officer was dispatched to arrest the girlfriend.

The errors began when the officer returned to Culpepper's boarding house rather than to Gilbert's home, which was a mile away. In addition to going to the wrong address, the officer failed to note differences in the descriptions of the two women. Gilbert is younger, taller, with a gold tooth and with her hair in a bun. Culpepper is shorter, does not have a gold tooth and does not wear her hair in a bun. Gilbert is also six years younger.

The complainant told police and the district attorney's office several times that Culpepper was not the woman who assaulted him. Even when Culpepper was taken to court to enter a plea and Boyd told the court that the wrong woman had been charged, no one followed up.

In addition to being locked up for 53 days, Culpepper suffered other damages. She was evicted from her boarding house, her disability payments were stopped, and her truck was sold for parts. She was unable to get any help from outside the jail until a public defender was assigned to defend her against felony aggravated battery and misdemeanor assault.

After she was finally able to go before a judge to tell her story, she remained in jail for another week because the judge dismissed only the felony charge, rather than both charges.

Culpepper has filed a lawsuit against the Atlanta Police Department, Fulton County Jail, the district attorney and several individuals. Gilbert is on probation for five years after pleading guilty to aggravated assault.

Source: Atlanta Journal -Constitution, "Innocent woman spends 53 days in jail," July 5, 2012.

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