Authorities had the information they needed to see that Joy Morales didn’t belong in jail.
But police, jailers and others wouldn’t listen as Morales said they had the wrong woman — and wouldn’t even compare her photo to the booking photo of the fugitive who had falsely used Morales’ name. As a result, Morales was wrongfully locked up nearly 50 days, according to a lawsuit Morales filed against Arizona and New Mexico authorities alleging false imprisonment, negligence and civil rights violations.
Morales said she endured sexual assault and harassment in jail until authorities found out she was telling the truth in January 2016 and released her.
Morales had already proven to a judge in August 2015 that an Arizona drunk driving suspect stole her identity by giving police Morales’ name and birthdate, landing Morales with a mistaken warrant for her arrest, the lawsuit said. Fingerprints, booking photos and more proved Morales and the DUI suspect were not the same person.
Then, in November 2015, a police officer stopped Morales in Hobbs, New Mexico, for rolling at a stop sign, the lawsuit said. After running Morales’ license, the officer discovered she had an active Arizona warrant for failing to appear on a DUI charge, the lawsuit said.
"No, I took care of it," Morales told Officer Jayson Hoff, according to audio of the interaction obtained by KRQE. "Somebody else used my name, I took care of it and everything.”
Over her protestations, the officer arrested Morales and took her to the Hobbs City Jail, the lawsuit said. She told detention officers there that all they had to do was compare arrest records, booking photos and fingerprints from the DUI arrest to see that Morales and the woman arrested for the DUI were clearly not the same person. (Hobbs police cited pending litigation in declining to comment on the lawsuit, KRQE reports.)
“If you look at the photo, you can tell it wasn’t me,” Morales told authorities, according to Cammie Nichols, a lawyer representing Morales.
But no one bothered, the lawsuit said.
That arrest was on Nov. 20, 2015 — and it wasn’t until Jan. 7, 2016, that Morales was finally released from custody, the lawsuit said. During those 49 days at jails in New Mexico and Arizona, Morales begged over and over again for police officers, judges and others to simply look into the stolen identity case.
Morales’ nightmare can be traced back to Feb. 27, 2014, when Devanne Archibeque — a friend from high school, who Morales hadn’t spoken to in years — was stopped for drunk driving on Interstate 40 in Arizona, the lawsuit said.
At the time, Archibeque had a warrant out for her arrest in New Mexico. But the officer who stopped Archibeque didn’t find out, because Archibeque didn’t have any identification on her and her vehicle was registered to someone else. Archibeque told the officer she and her passenger were headed to Las Vegas, Nevada, to get married.
That’s when Archibeque gave her name as Joy Morales, and used Morales’ date of birth, the lawsuit said.
“It was incredibly easy for this woman to give the officer the wrong information,” Nichols said. “She knew Joy from high school. That’s all it took.”
Archibeque was arrested on DUI charges under the name Joy Morales and booked at the Yavapai County jail, where she was fingerprinted. She was held for two days until she was released.
Morales didn’t find out about the false charges she faced in Arizona until August 2015, when she was arrested in New Mexico and had to go to court to clear up the mistaken identity issue, according to the lawsuit.
After that, Morales notified the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office so they would be aware they had a warrant out for the wrong woman. But authorities in Arizona didn’t take reasonable action to clear the improper warrant — which Morales learned months later when she was stopped in Hobbs, the lawsuit said.
After the Hobbs arrest, Morales said she pleaded with everyone to compare the photos and fingerprints, according to the lawsuit. She was held without bond, even as she told the judge about her predicament. She asked for a lawyer, but wasn't given access to one and was instead told to write a letter, the lawsuit said.
“If the system was working the way it should, there should have been somebody” to step in and investigate, Nichols said. “It would not have been that difficult, if someone had tried.”
Morales spent Christmas behind bars, and was eventually extradited from Lea County in New Mexico to Arizona, the lawsuit said. That's where authorities realized the mistake and released her Jan. 7.
How did authorities finally figure it out? All it took was “a simple examination and comparison of readily available booking information, including fingerprints,” the lawsuit said.
“The warden himself came to release her and apologize to her for what she’d been through,” Nichols said.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.