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Wrong Man Winds up in Naval Brig for Tough 42-Hour Stretch

February 21, 1987

CHICAGO (AP) _ A 27-year-old grocery clerk spent 24 hours in a naval brig, was forced to exercise and had his hair cut and mustache shaved after being charged with desertion - until officials learned he had never been in the Navy.

Tommy Darryl Pulliam’s episode of mistaken identity began with a routine traffic stop and took him on a trip through a bureacratic maze he said looked endless.

″I never felt so helpless in my life,″ Pulliam said Friday. ″I kept saying to anyone and everyone, ‘I’m innocent,’ and thinking this nightmare is going to end soon. But no one would listen to me.

″Then, when they got me to the naval base, they kept telling me, ’You’re going back to San Diego,″ he added. ″And after a while, I started thinking, ’I might really be going into the Navy for good.‴

Pulliam was finally released from the brig at Great Lakes Naval Training Base on Wednesday after a check of dental records showed he was not the Tommy Darryl Pulliam wanted on charges of deserting the Navy at San Diego, Calif.

When an Illinois state trooper stopped Pulliam late Monday for speeding and ran a computer check, the officer found Pulliam fit most of the particulars listed on the Navy’s arrest warrant.

There were discrepancies - Pulliam was an inch taller, 30 pounds heavier and had no visible scar on his forehead - but apparently not enough for Pulliam to convince the state trooper and officers at the Great Lakes Naval Training Base that he had never served in the U.S. Navy.

The state trooper turned Pulliam over to Chicago police Monday night, and Tuesday afternoon, Great Lakes dispatched a car to bring him to the base, located about 30 miles north of downtown.

The Rev. Leonard DeVille, Pulliam’s stepfather said someone apparently had used Pulliam’s name and personal information to enlist.

″The trooper told me it was out of his hands, the police kept saying it’s a federal matter and the people at Great Lakes kept saying they were investigating,″ said DeVille.

″I told them, ’I raised that boy, I’d sure know if he’d ever been away long enough to be in the Navy,‴ he said. ″And I told them, even a blind man could run his hand over Tommy’s forehead and see there’s no scar, never has been. But nobody seemed to want to hear the right story.″

″The unusual twist in this case,″ said Great Lakes base spokesman Bill Dermody, ″is that all the personal history information checked out - date of birth, schooling, mother’s maiden name.″

While there were inconsistencies on the enlistment application, ″there are many consistencies,″ Dermody said. He declined to be more specific.

In the brig, Pulliam was given a haircut and his moustache was shaved. He said he suffered an asthma attack only minutes before he said he was forced to undergo a rigorous 45-minute workout.

He declined to discuss details of his incarceration, citing possible litigation.

A State Police spokesman defended the troopers’ action.

″It’s unfortunate for the victim in this situation, but our guys’ response was certainly appropriate because everything they had indicated they had the correct person,″ said Bob Fletcher.

The deserter is still at large. He was stationed in San Diego from May 1986 and deserted Dec. 16.

″It’s awfully scary to think somebody would do this,″ said Pulliam.

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