For José García, a double dose of mistaken identity

José García has been to Miami only twice, both times with his hands in cuffs.

On both occasions, he was extradited from his home in Texas for the same crime — a crime that, according to a Miami-Dade circuit court judge, he didn’t commit.

García’s latest Groundhog Day-like experience ended earlier this year when he was released from jail in Miami after he was found — for the second time in five years — not to be the man wanted for an armed robbery and kidnapping dating back nearly 30 years.

José García said he is trying to recover the losses he incurred as a result of his second extradition, including the loss of his job as a diesel truck repairman. “It shouldn’t happen twice,” he said. “It shouldn’t happen at all — never, ever.”

García’s first wrongful journey through Miami’s criminal justice system happened in 2008 when he was picked up by police in Texas and flown to South Florida, where he spent two months in jail before he could prove that authorities had the wrong guy. He happened to share the same birthdate and name as the wanted armed robbery/kidnapping suspect, José García of Miami.

Texas García’s alibi, if not exactly flattering, was air-tight: At the time of the Christmas Day1983 crime in Kendall, García was in prison in Texas serving a six-year sentence for rape.

García wound up again in Miami last January when he was arrested for DWI in Texas. After serving a five-day sentence in Cameron County, he was ready to be released on probation.

But when the Cameron County Sheriff’s Office found the old arrest warrant, they got in touch with the Miami-Dade Police Department and sent them García’s mug shot and fingerprints. It matched Miami’s records for the wanted man.

“We got confirmation from Florida,” said Omar Lucio, sheriff of Cameron County. “There’s nothing here showing that he was the wrong guy. As far as we know, that was him.”

After García finished his drunk-driving sentence, he was sent right back to his jail cell.

“They told me I couldn’t leave,” García said. “That I was wanted in Florida.”

Back to Miami

On Feb. 21, more than a month after his original DUI sentence had ended, two Miami-Dade police officers arrived in Texas and told him he was wanted for the 1983 kidnapping.

“You’re the ones kidnapping me,” García said he told the officers after showing them the court order proving his innocence.

“They just looked at each other,” García said. “They told me there was nothing they could do.”

The cops then escorted a handcuffed García on a crowded commercial flight from Brownsville to Houston and finally to Miami.

“I was very embarrassed,” García said. “I kept thinking, ‘How could this be happening? How could they be taking me back for the same thing?’ ”

The Miami-Dade Police Department said that García’s fingerprints and mug shot had stayed on file for the old warrant after the first extradition in 2008, leading him to be extradited a second time.

They also blamed García for the confusion, saying that he voluntarily agreed to be transported to Miami and never raised alarms about the 2008 error.

“At the time of Mr. García’s arrest, and when he was before the court for his extradition hearing, he failed to inform anyone that this was a case of mistaken identity,” the police department said in a statement.

But García claims he protested throughout the process, explaining that he was the wrong guy and displaying a copy of a court order signed by a Miami-Dade judge after his 2008 extradition certifying that he was not the man named on the warrant.

Law enforcement authorities in Texas said that García had presented them with a “letter” declaring his innocence, but that the Miami-Dade Police Department confirmed they wanted him extradited.

The State Attorney’s Office for Miami-Dade County said they have rigorous policies in place to avoid charging the wrong people in cases of identity theft or mistaken identity.

“If there is ever some confusion about some individual’s identity or identification, my policy is that it be resolved quickly and completely,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, state attorney for Miami-Dade County, said in a statement. “If an innocent person is charged with a crime, a guilty person walks free. Neither situation should ever happen.”

Back to Texas

Just after midnight on Feb. 22, García was booked in Miami for the outstanding warrant linked to the 1983 kidnapping. He was later brought before a judge for a bond hearing. Video of the hearing shows a despondent García in flip-flops and jeans pulling a folded piece of paper from the breast pocket of a maroon button-down shirt: the court order from his first extradition in 2008.

After some befuddled conversation between the judge and García’s appointed attorney, the judge ordered García released.

Officers with the Miami-Dade Police Department then took Mr. García to a bus station, bought him a fast food cheeseburger and a bus ticket to Harlingen, Texas, and gave him $100 in cash. The police said García’s extradition cost Miami-Dade County $1,008.67.

An alert has now been placed on García’s name in local and national law enforcement databases indicating that he is not the man wanted for the 1983 kidnapping, the police said.

As for José García of Miami, he’s still on the lam.