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Woman Tells of False Arrest Caused by Computer Mix-Up

April 24, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ An airline flight attendant told a congressional committee Wednesday how she was falsely arrested and detained because of incorrect information in the FBI’s national crime computer.

Sheila Jackson Stossier said she was arrested on Oct. 28, 1983, by U.S. Customs agents in New Orleans because her maiden name resembled that of a woman sought in a Texas arrest warrant.

At the New Orleans airport, ″I was told there was a warrant for my arrest on a parole violation and I would be sent to Texas to serve time in prison,″ she told the House Judiciary subcommittee on civil and constitutional rights.

″I told them a mistake had been made and that I have never been arrested nor had I committed a crime,″ she said.

Mrs. Stossier, an Eastern Airlines employee based in Washington, said she spent the night in two local jails and was forced to remain in Louisiana for five days before a judge signed an order allowing her to leave the state under the terms of her $1,000 bond.

Although it was later determined that a Shirley Jackson, not Sheila Jackson, was wanted by Texas authorities, Mrs. Stossier said her name is now listed as an alias in the computer. ″Now I have an arrest record. My married name, Stossier, is now listed as an alias,″ she said.

The subcommittee is hearing testimony on the FBI’s 1986 budget request, which includes a proposal to expand the National Crime information Center computer system.

Theodore A. Mars Jr., an attorney representing Mrs. Stossier in a lawsuit against the government, said it is very difficult to get police agencies to expunge information about a wrongly arrested person from the computer system.

″The expunging process is very, very complex and sometimes if you are not an attorney it is very, very expensive,″ he said.

Mrs. Stossier’s lawsuit is pending in a federal court in New Orleans.

William P. Quigley, general counsel to the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, testified that New Orleans officials signed a consent decree in February agreeing to impose stricter controls on the use of the city’s police department crime computer.

Quigley said the consent decree arose from a class-action lawsuit on behalf of hundreds of people who had been wrongly arrested because of faulty use of the computer.

He said a woman named Shirley Jones was wrongly arrested after she had applied to be a foster mother for her five nieces and nephews. ″On the day after her interview with the state department of health, two members of the New Orleans police department arrived at her home after lunch and asked for Vera Davis.

Police arrested her, saying she was wanted on a 4-year-old theft and forgery charge. A warrant for Vera Davis’ arrest listed a dozen aliases, including the name Shirley Jones,″ Quigley said.

″I found that the person being sought was born in a different year on a different day and a different month than the Shirley Jones I knew and that, in fact, she was six inches shorter and about 70 pounds lighter than Shirley Jones,″ Quigley said.

″Despite this, the sheriff’s office refused to drop the charges and forced this matter to a preliminary hearing,″ where the charges were dropped by a judge, he said.

Quigley said it was later determined that Vera Davis was in jail at the time his client was arrested.

Quigley said he was convinced that tighter procedures might prevent the types of abuses that he discovered.

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