Mistaken ID leads to jail, mental hospital for veteran

Kenneth Williams lost almost a year of his life to the Fulton County Jail and a state mental hospital because of mistaken identity.

Williams, a disabled Army veteran with memory and mental problems, was booked into the Fulton County jail on a misdemeanor charge Jan. 4, 2011. By the time he was released 16 days later, his records had apparently been commingled with the records of another jail inmate, a “tragic” mistake that would haunt him for more than three years, according to his lawyer.

As a result of the mix up, Williams was arrested three times on warrants meant for the other man, who is identified as K.W. in a pre-lawsuit notice sent to Fulton County. The notice says Williams is seeking $6 million.

Once he was released earlier this year, everything he needed to survive was gone — his driver’s license and his veterans and Social Security benefits. The false drug charge remains as part of Williams’ records, which show aliases that could be combinations of Williams’ and K.W.’s names — Maurice Lewis, Maurice Kenneth Lewis, Kenneth Weems, Kenneth M. Williams and Kenny Williams.

It was after the third arrest on the warrant meant for K.W. that Williams, locked up in jail, was forcibly medicated to make him stop insisting that the criminal justice system had the wrong man. The anti-psychotic medication was intended to make him competent to stand trial on the charges against K.W.

Yet, while Williams was medicated in jail on K.W.’s charges, the real defendant was arrested and taken to the Fulton County Jail and released twice. Williams’ lawyer, John Merchant, called it a “cruel irony.”

Fulton sheriff’s spokeswoman Tracy Flanagan said the jail is investigating the claims Williams has made. Otherwise, she said, the office has no comment because of the potential legal action.

In total, Williams spent more than seven months in the Fulton County Jail and another four months in Georgia Regional Hospital.

“It’s amazing something this simple could screw up somebody’s life like this,” Merchant said.

“This is a tragic case, unfortunately, for a gentleman who doesn’t have a firm foothold on the world,” Merchant. “He’s a classic case of people ignoring obvious pleas. He’s saying ‘it’s not me,’ but … they just dismissed him.”

Williams’ unfortunate journey started with his first arrest was on a misdemeanor charge of criminal trespass on Jan. 4, 2011. Three days later, K.W. was booked into the jail on a felony charge of possession of heroin and three misdemeanor drug charges.

Williams was released Jan. 20, 2011, having completed his sentence on the misdemeanor charge, and for a year-and-half he had no problems.

Beginning in June 2012, Williams was arrested three times on warrants issued because K.W. had not come to required court hearings. The first two times, Williams spent 13 days in jail. The third time, March 7, 2013, Williams was locked up in the Fulton County Jail for seven months and then sent to the Georgia Regional Hospital to be forcibly medicated with anti-psychotic medication to make him competent to stand trial. His competency to stand trial was at issue because Williams kept insisting that he was not who they said he was.

In February, Williams was heard.

After a social worker checked jail records and found Williams was already in jail the day K.W. was brought in on drug charges, a doctor suggested the judge order a fingerprint comparison.

Williams was released from the hospital in February.

Yet, Merchant says,Williams’ and K.W.’s jail records remain linked five months after Bedford ordered Williams released. “These errors continue to haunt Mr. Williams,” Merchant said in the written filing.

Williams isn’t angry, he said. Mostly he wants to get another driver’s license, which the state suspended because of the drug charges linked to him. Williams is trying to restart his monthly veterans and Social Security benefits, cut off automatically when he was jailed.

“I’m free but it still affects me because my benefits are gone and I’m not the same person,” said Williams, now 60 and living at a VA facility in southwest Atlanta. “(They) keep telling me they’re going to give me my benefits back and they haven’t done it.”

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