Lawsuit: Mistaken identity lands woman in Gwinnett jail for 2 days

Jessica Ellison’s nightmare began with a broken tail light and a case of mistaken identity.

It ended with two days in the Gwinnett County jail, a worried family and a lost job — and now a lawsuit.

“This reads as the script for some kind of dark comedy, where your protagonist cannot get anything to go right,” Ellison’s attorney, Nathan Lock, said.

Lock filed a lawsuit this week in U.S. District Court in Atlanta on Ellison's behalf. Among the named defendants are Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway; Corizon Health, which at the time of the incident provided health care services at the jail; and Gwinnett County police Officer Mark Ferrell.

It accuses them all of negligence.

The sheriff’s office and police department both declined to comment on the case. Lock and the lawsuit describe the incident as follows.

Ellison, a property manager from Jonesboro, was driving through Gwinnett County on the afternoon of June 21, 2016, when she got stopped near Duluth by GCPD Officer Mark Ferrell. Ferrell told her she had a tail light out and he was going to give her a warning, but that needed to run her license.

According to Ferrell’s incident report, he subsequently found a warrant out of Bartow County for a woman named Jessica Ellison. The birthdates matched, and dispatch verified the warrant — for failure to appear on a then-three-year-old shoplifting charge — was still active.

Ellison was taken to jail.

Only one problem, she and her lawyer now say: the warrant was for a Jessica Ellis. No “-on.”

Upon arriving at the jail, Ellison was fingerprinted and, despite her “repeated” pleas about there being a mistake, those fingerprints were never compared to those of the wanted woman, the lawsuit claims.

“There’s a lot of different things that could’ve been verified that would’ve distinguished the two,” Lock said.

Ellison spent the next two days in the jail waiting on Bartow County authorities to come pick her up. During that time, the lawsuit claims, she was not allowed a phone call — leaving her family and her job to wonder where she was — and never saw a nurse despite repeated requests.

Ellison takes supplements to prevent seizures.

She didn’t have one in jail, Lock said, but did shortly after arriving home — which was only possible after the Bartow County deputy that arrived to transport her double-checked her information and was “immediately able to verify” she was the wrong woman.

The seizure came while she was cleaning up feces and urine from her dog, who was alone and unfed the entire time she was incarcerated.

Ellison also lost her job, according to the suit, which asks for unspecified compensation.