Teen spends 35 days in jail after mistaken arrest

By Tim Pulliam, General assignment reporter, tpulliam@wjxt.com
Published On: Feb 25 2014 07:29:42 AM EST
Updated On: Feb 25 2014 08:38:39 PM EST

A Clay County teen spent more than a month locked up in jail because of what the sheriff's office now says was a "mistaken arrest".

GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. -

Four Clay County sheriff's deputies are facing discipline after a high school student spent more than a month in jail charged as an adult in a sexual battery case because he had the same name as the suspect.

The Sheriff's Office was looking for a Clay High School student after a girl younger than 12 told investigators she had sex in the fall of 2012 with an older boy she identified as Cody Williams. Last year, deputies arrested 17-year-old Cody Lee Williams (pictured above), and booked him into the Clay County jail.

After reviewing reports from the Green Cove Springs Police Department of the mother of the victim having a verbal altercation with 17-year-old Cody Raymond Williams (pictured right in Clay County Sheriff's Office booking photo), Clay County Sheriff's Office Lt. Wayne McKinney began an internal investigation that revealed the the wrong teenager was arrested.

The mistake wasn't discovered until 35 days later, when the teen received court documents detailing the charges against him.

Three Clay County deputies received formal counseling for their role in the wrongful arrest and one deputy -- Johnny Hawkins -- faces a 10-day unpaid suspension and a transfer from investigations to patrol.

Authorities said investigators failed to confirm their suspect's identity with a photo lineup.

Sheriff Rick Beseler wrote that because of that deputy's incompetence, "an innocent man was accused of a terrible crime he didn't commit. Arresting an innocent person is something we fear far more than letting a guilty person get away. I extend to Cody Lee Williams my apology for this error and we will seek to make things right for him."

A disciplinary hearing was being held for Hawkins and the other deputies on Tuesday morning.

"I feel like if the proper steps were taken, all of this could have been avoided," Cody Lee Williams said. "This whole situation is extremely embarrassing for me and my family."

Cody Lee Williams' attorney said in a phone interview Tuesday his client is a victim of a civil rights violation.

"I think where the wrongdoing went wrong here was that the investigation stopped at my client's first and last name," attorney Kristopher Nowicki said. "There was no investigation as to whether or not they had the right Cody Williams, no investigation as to where he was at the time of the alleged conduct."

Cody Lee Williams' attorney said a civil suit, if filed, could request policy changes or money damages.

"I honestly think it will make people think twice and think again before going and writing a warrant for someone's arrest or pick someone up and take them to jail," Cody Lee Williams said. "They better know all the facts."

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