A Punta Gorda man who spent four days in the Charlotte County Jail last week after police arrested him on a false warrant may not be the only one being wrongly imprisoned.
“Other people reached out saying it happened to them,” said John Andrews. “It needs to be stopped.”
Andrews, 24, was helping his brother move out of his Englewood home Aug. 17 when someone reported “suspicious activity.” A Charlotte County Sheriff’s deputy swung by to check it out, and ran the men’s names through his computer. Andrews came up as having a warrant for his arrest related to an old Sarasota County DUI case, for which he had already served time.
Andrews tried to explain that he had already been punished for the DUI case, but the CCSO deputy was looking at seemingly valid information from the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office that said otherwise. Andrews was arrested and hauled off to the Charlotte County Jail. His bond was $10,000 — an amount he decided wasn’t worth scraping together to free himself, even though he had done nothing wrong.
“I thought you’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, but I’ve never been treated that way,” said Andrews, who has been arrested before on minor charges, like marijuana possession. “No one listens to you after you’re arrested.”
Andrews’ family and his attorney, Scott Weinberg, of Brown, Suarez, Rios & Weinberg, started digging around to see what the problem was. A judge in Sarasota voided the warrant on Aug. 20 after the error was brought to light.
“As soon as we were notified of the judge’s action, our Teletype notified CCSO — at 4:55 p.m. (Aug. 20) — that the hold was released and the warrant recalled,” said SCSO spokeswoman Wendy Rose. “He should have been released shortly thereafter.”
Charlotte County Jail staff still didn’t release Andrews. The inmate was transported to Sarasota on Friday, where he was immediately released.
The CCSO declined to comment.
“A main issue here is that the communication between Sarasota County and Charlotte County (sheriff’s offices) is horrible,” Weinberg said.
The lawyer said Monday that he is still trying to find out who, exactly, is at fault: perhaps the probation officer who sent the bogus warrant to the judge, or the judge who signed off on it after the DUI case was closed.
“We’re exploring all legal options,” Weinberg said. “(Andrews) lost four days of his life because of this.”
The miscommunication seems to span further than the region.
In December 2013, the Punta Gorda Police Department arrested an area woman named Brandy Lee Lowe based on inaccurate warrant information from the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, which was after a suspected shoplifter with the same name. The local Lowe spent a day in jail before the error was caught.
Lowe had come into the police station to report her mother missing. She was handcuffed in front of her young son.
At the time, Lowe told the Sun she was considering some sort of lawsuit. One hasn’t been filed. Lowe hasn’t returned the newspaper’s calls since the incident.