Atlanta police have launched an internal investigation into the botched case of an African-American woman who was left to languish in jail for nearly two months after she was arrested by mistake.
Investigators are trying to establish whether any procedures were breached in the arrest of Teresa Culpepper, who spent 53 days locked behind bars in Fulton County Jail, just because she has the same first name, Teresa, as a woman wanted by the authorities.
Ms Culpepper’s life was turned upside down when she called police on August 21st as a victim to say her truck had been taken outside her Hawkins Street home. The officer who dealt with her had a “hunch” she might be the same Teresa wanted by police for aggravated assault.
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He took it upon himself to arrest Culpepper and then radioed his superiors who told him “don’t bother with a police line-up you might as well put her straight in jail,” Culpepper’s attorney, Ashleigh Merchant, told theGrio.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Culpepper said in an interview with WSB-TV. “I didn’t know how to get out this situation.”
Bail was set a $12,000 to get Culpepper out of jail but her family and friends did not have the money.
“The only thing these women have in common is that they both share the same first name, ‘Teresa’, and are ‘black women’, other than that nothing matched,” said Ms Merchant.
“My client is older, about 25 pounds lighter and at least 5 inches shorter than the Teresa who was supposed to be arrested. Her birth date didn’t match. Her address didn’t match,” she added.
Culpepper lives in a low income neighborhood plagued by crime and I can’t help thinking, “if she was in another part of town this wouldn’t have happened,” said Merchant.
Culpepper remained in prison until Oct.12. Her nightmare came to an end when her public defender found the victim of the assault and brought him to court to say Culpepper was not the “Teresa” who assaulted him.
WSB-TV managed to track down a woman who said she is the Teresa wanted by the authorities for aggravated assault. She said she has not been arrested.
“My client’s lost everything. Imagine not being able to pay any of your bills for 53 days. She’s lost her home and is now living with friends. Her phone’s shut down. Her truck was impounded and she still can’t afford $500 to release it,” said Merchant.
In a scathing attack Merchant said, “The police didn’t do their jobs property. They just didn’t care.”
“We are satisfied an investigation has been launched but we want the officers involved to be held accountable for their actions so this type of mishap doesn’t happen again,” said Merchant.
Merchant’s law firm is also seeking financial compensation for false arrest and wrongful incarceration.
Atlanta police have been faced with a string of federal lawsuits that accuse them of abuse. In a widely reported case, Atlanta City Council approved a $1 million dollar settlement against the city and police filed by patrons of a bar raided by police in 2009.