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Fla. sheriff’s deputy arrests man with same name as accused, faces discipline

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One Florida high school student wrongly spent more than a month in jail simply for having the same name as the man who had been accused of sexual battery, according to a report today from The Florida Times-Union.

The Clay County Sherriff’s Department arrested and locked up 18-year-old Clay High School student Cody Lee Williams after a girl younger than 12 said a man by that name had sex with her around Halloween in 2012.

The only problem, the Cody Williams the sheriff’s picked up shares the same first and last name of another student at the high school, Cody Raymond Williams, who the girl had intended to identify as the alleged perpetrator.

The girl had told authorities what her alleged abuser looked like and where he went to school, leading the sheriff’s office to seek the arrest of Cody Lee Williams, though they did not confirm it was the right suspect with a photo.

Two months later Clay Sheriff’s officers arrested then-17-year-old Cody Lee Williams, who then was charged as an adult by the State Attorney’s office.

“I can’t even tell you the horror of hearing those words,” Williams said. “My heart just started beating really fast and all my insides just kind of dropped.”

Clay County Sheriff’s deputy Johnny Hawkins, the investigator on the case, said he normally would have used a photo lineup to confirm the suspect identity, but did not in this case for some reason, according to an internal investigation.

In a court appearance, Williams received documents detailing the charges, after which he phoned his mother from jail explaining that he believes that they had mistaken him for another student by the same name –– Cody Raymond Williams.

William’s mother brought the information to Hawkins attention, who then confirmed via a photo lineup that he had the wrong guy when the girl involved in the case said she knew Cody Lee Williams, but it wasn’t the right Cody Williams.

After an internal investigation found Hawkins failed to take several key steps in his investigation, the deputy faces a 10-day unpaid suspension and a transfer from investigations to patrol.

William’s attorney Kristopher Nowicki, representing him for any possible civil action against the department, said the blundered investigation could have been avoided with a simple photo lineup.

“It seems that there was no investigation done other than my client’s name,” Nowicki said. “It is not Cody Williams’ obligation to investigate crimes on behalf of the state of Florida.”

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