Wrongfully arrested woman plans to sue

Clay County deputies wrongfully arrested Louisiana woman twice

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – It was a case of mistaken identity that landed a young mother in jail for five weeks.

Ashley Nicole Chiasson, 28, who lives in Chelmette, Louisiana, is now planning to sue the Clay County Sheriff's Office for violating her constitutional rights.

Chiasson told Channel 4 Wednesday she'd never even heard of Clay County, let alone committed a crime there when she was arrested earlier this year.

"It's just horrible," Chiasson said.

Chiasson's attorney notified the Clay County sheriff in a letter Monday that he was going to be filing a federal lawsuit on behalf of his client.

Both sides agree that the wrong woman was arrested -- twice. But they don't agree on what should happen now.

Chiasson, a single mom, is three years younger and has a similar name to the woman deputies wanted to question, but was somehow mistaken for her.

Chiasson was arrested at her home and extradited to Clay County in January. Deputies accused her of stealing personal property, grand theft, which is a felony.

While in court to have the charges dropped, she learned of another warrant for her arrest, this time for trying to cash a fraudulent check. That warrant was also meant for the other woman.

Chiasson's Ponte Vedra Beach attorney, Andrew Bonderud, said his client spent another week in jail for that.

"She, like most people who have read about the story, are kind of at a loss for words to understand how something like this could happen," Bonderud said.

Chiasson said her mother and boyfriend stepped in to take care of her two children while she was in jail, and without them, "I'd probably be homeless in Florida trying to find my way back home."

Clay County Sheriff Rick Beseler issued a statement, that reads, "I extend to Ashley Nicole Chiasson my sincere apology for the error." It continues, "We shall seek to make things right for her."

But Chiasson's attorney said that may be decided in federal court.

"What's it going to take to make this right? More than an apology," Bonderud said.

By law, anyone who sues a government agency must give it six months notice before filing. Chiasson's attorney said he can't sue for punitive damages, but he can sue for emotional distress, which he said was overwhelming for his client.

Chiasson said when she was not in jail between January and May, she had to pay her own way back and forth to Clay County from her home in Louisiana. She lost a job and her home.

"This was devastating to her," Bonderud said. "She's a single mother. She has a 12-year-old daughter, 2-year-old son. She lives paycheck to paycheck."

"I thought my life was ending," Chiasson said. "I was freaked out."

Chiasson's was arrested in 2011 on a grand theft charge in Pinellas County. She pleaded out to a misdemeanor in March.

Beseler said in his statement, "A full review of how proper investigative procedures were not followed is underway," and "Those responsible will be held accountable."

The actual suspect has not been arrested.

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