Innocent man Omar Sullivan recently spent 27 days in jail after not one, but four mistakes by law enforcement officials.
Sullivan’s problems date back to 2008, when his identity was stolen by a man named Steven Sylvester. When Sylvester was hit with illegal gun and drug possession charges, they were pinned on Sullivan. Sullivan received a court citation in the mail telling him to appear in court for the felony charges.
"Omar goes down there and says, 'it's not me, it's not me," said Sullivan's attorney, Patrick Metz. "They fingerprint him, they check the fingerprints on the individual Sylvester, who was actually using his ID and they see it's not him."
The fingerprints didn’t match, and Sullivan was cleared of any wrongdoing. Or so he thought. Six years later, on Jan. 27 of this year, Sullivan was pulled over in Georgia. When police ran his ID, he popped up in the system as wanted in New Jersey on felony charges. Somehow, his name had never been cleared in the state’s database.
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Sullivan told the officers about the mix up, but they had none of it. He was booked into jail, where he stayed for 12 days before being sent up to Essex County, New Jersey in a paddy wagon. The wagon went on a four-day trip, weaving through Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and several other states before arriving in New Jersey.
"You couldn't move, you couldn't stand up straight; we used to cross our fingers and hope we got to use the bathroom," Sullivan recalls.
Upon arriving in New Jersey, Sullivan immediately knew he was going to have more problems. When he got out of the wagon, officials called him Steven Sylvester.
“That is when I knew that this wasn’t going to be fun,” he said.
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"When we went to court, they said they were going to deny him bail, they didn't want to hear they had the wrong person,” said Sullivan’s mother Valerie Murphy.
After several more days in jail, prosecuting attorneys realized their mistake and dropped the charges against Sullivan. The charges were dropped on February 21, and Sullivan figured he would be out of jail that day.
But, as Sullivan's luck would have it, officials made another mistake. They forgot to put his name on the prison release list. Sullivan spent two more days in jail before walking free. All together, he spent 27 days in custody.
“I can’t take these people,’’ Sullivan said. “I never thought in a million years that I would be in this position.’’
Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura stated the obvious – and not much else – when asked about Sullivan’s undeserved troubles.
“It’s a very complicated matter,” Fontoura said. “But, unfortunately, human error occurs. He appears to be a victim of that. Somebody dropped the ball.’’