What’s in a Name? 6 Days in Jail : Mix-Up Blamed for Tangled Mess

July 14, 1986|DEBORAH HASTINGS | LA Times Staff Writer

Jorge Garcia Soto was released from jail this weekend after spending six frustrating days trying to convince authorities that they had the wrong man.

In vain, the Orange County man recalled Sunday, he told the police officer who arrested him, two more officers at the station, and the man who took his fingerprints at the jail, that they had made a mistake. The man they were really after, he said, had the same birth date and a similar name, but it wasn’t him.

Soto should know. He’s been through this before, only this time it was much worse.

Drunk-Driving Charge

The 27-year-old machine operator from Santa Ana was arrested in Los Angeles for drunk driving in March. On his driving record, police found at the time, was a previous conviction for the same offense. Soto, however, claimed that he had no previous record.

Eventually, his attorney, Raul Lomas, convinced the judge that the previous charge belonged to another Jorge Garcia, a man who lives in Los Angeles County and who was born April 26, 1959, the same day as his client.

Through some mix-up in the Department of Motor Vehicles computer, the charge had wrongly been applied to Soto’s record, the lawyer said.

The matter was ultimately cleared up and Soto pleaded no contest to the drunk driving charge at a sentencing hearing earlier this month. He was placed on three years’ informal probation and ordered to pay a fine.

Both Lomas and Soto considered the case of mistaken identity resolved.

Until last week.

Warrant Was Out

Soto, who was driving home from work on Monday afternoon, was stopped by Orange police for making an illegal right turn. When the police officer ran a check on Soto’s license, an outstanding warrant for drunk driving, driving without a license and failing to have proof of insurance showed up. The warrant was issued against Jorge Garcia, who listed an address in Los Angeles County.

Soto was arrested and taken to the police station. The Spanish-speaking man tried, he said, to explain the situation to the arresting officer and to two other police officers at the station.

“No one would listen to me,” he said Sunday, speaking through an interpreter. “I felt very frustrated.”

Orange Police Sgt. John Higley said Sunday that according to the arrest report made by traffic Officer Armando Marrujo, “There is no indication of any disclaimer made on the part of Mr. (Soto). Normally something like that would be in there, but it wouldn’t necessarily be the case.”

Efforts to reach Marrujo were unsuccessful Sunday.

What followed Soto’s arrest was a long and confusing chain of events.

On Monday night, Soto was taken to the Orange County Jail. He spent five days there waiting to be transferred to Los Angeles County, where the bench warrant was issued.

“I was very upset, because I tried to tell so many people to compare my fingerprints,” Soto said. “But no one would ever listen to me. I was trying to communicate to the jailer, the fingerprint guy, the arresting officer. . . .”

Lomas said he does not know why it took so long for authorities to transfer his client to Los Angeles.

Time in Jail

“In the meantime, this man who has not done anything has spent five days in jail. His family did not have the money to bail him out, so he just sat there.”

On Tuesday, Soto’s wife contacted Lomas. The attorney spent the next three days trying to sort out the mess. First, he said, he called the Los Angeles city attorney’s office, which had prosecuted Soto in his drunk-driving case and knew about the mix-up with the other Jorge Garcia.

Lomas said that both the Municipal Court commissioner in that case and the prosecutor, Deputy City Atty. Carol Williams, told him there was nothing they could do to help.

The commissioner, Robert J. Sandoval, was unavailable for comment. Williams, when reached by a reporter on Friday, said “I would have no comment at this time.”

Told It to the Judge

On Friday, Lomas said, he spoke with the presiding judge of the East Los Angeles Municipal Court, where the bench warrant was issued, and explained the story to him.

“He told me to try to get some kind of certificate (verifying that Soto was the wrong man),” Lomas said.

That same day, Soto was transferred to Los Angeles. In court, Lomas presented a fingerprint analysis that proved his client was not the same Jorge Garcia that the warrant sought.

The matter was cleared up in 10 minutes, said Beth Van Arnam, a deputy Los Angeles County district attorney.

“Mr. Soto’s attorney made a representation that we found to be true,” she said. “It is unfortunate for Mr. Soto, and it is with the county’s apologies. But with so many bench warrants and the officers having to act on good faith, I don’t know how we can prevent it. It does happen a lot.”

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