Attorney worries wrongful arrest could happen again

By Tarik Minor, Anchor-reporter, tminor@wjxt.com
Published On: Aug 06 2014 09:48:35 AM EDT
Updated On: Jul 03 2014 07:32:52 PM EDT

We're learning new information about the 4 sheriff's deputies who were disciplined for their part in the two wrongful arrests of a Louisiana woman.
News4Jax has learned that Sheriff Rick Beseler originally warned the deputies that they could be fired for the mistake. After a review, they were instead suspended without pay, and demoted. Channel 4's Tarik Minor spoke with the attorney representing that Louisiana woman, Ashley Nicole Chiasson.

GREEN COVE SPINGS, Fla. -

Clay County Sheriff Rick Beseler originally warned four detectives who wrongfully arrested a woman twice that they could be terminated, but after a review, they were instead suspended without pay and removed from the detective division.

The lawyer representing the woman who was wrongfully arrested, Ashley Chiasson, said he applauds the sheriff for putting new policies and procedures in place, but he still questions whether or not the wrong person will be taken into custody again in Clay County.

"The problem here, perhaps, was not that they didn't have the policies in place. It was that the policies weren't followed," attorney Andrew Bonderud said.

Bonderud said he suspects the problems aren't over for the Clay County Sheriff's Office. He said even though the sheriff disciplined the four detectives responsible, the arrest of the wrong person could happen again.

DOCUMENTS: Administrative inquiryStatement from Clay County sheriff

"My suspicions without being an expert is that if the scrutiny ends here, we can reasonably expect this to happen again," Bonderud said.

Chiasson protested her arrest in Lousiana, but she was still extradited and jailed for five weeks on charges of fraud and grand theft. The correct Ashley Chiasson was arrested weeks later.

Lt. Dan Mahla was the highest-ranking deputy found at fault.

"We've put safety measures in place to make sure this never happens again," Beseler said.

Beseler said a new arrest warrant checklist will ensure his deputies don't take the shortcuts that lead to their mistakes. He said on top of that, a lawyer will review each and every case before it's sent to the State Attorney's Office.

Sgt. William Roberts, Detective Matt Maertz, Sgt Robert Curry and Mahla were all transferred to patrol and suspended without pay. Beseler said he hopes it's the first step in regaining the public's trust.

"It may take us a while to get it back, but I want the public to know that we took this seriously, we got to the bottom of it and held those people accountable," Beseler said.

Bonderud would not disclose how much money his client is seeking in the civil lawsuit against the Clay County Sheriff's Office. He said they haven't put a price on justice quite yet.

The State Attorney's Office on Thursday released the following statement on the case:
"From the first indication that the wrong Ashley Chiasson had been arrested, Assistant State Attorney Ernie Dukes and Assistant Public Defender Kyle Bedran worked diligently together to sort out the confusion and verify the alibi. The medical records brought to our attention on May 9 by APD Bedran were not definitive in that they did not contain a date of birth or a middle initial. However, throughout the month of May, the SAO and the PDO stayed in contact trying to confirm the alibi information. As late as June 3, 2014, APD Bedran and the SAO were still communicating regarding the alibi. Once it was clear the wrong defendant was arrested, the SAO consented to an immediate release of the defendant from the Clay County Jail, and the two cases were Nolle Prossed."

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