JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Motor Vehicles is changing the way its computer systems work because of the cases of a blind man and a mother of three who were mistakenly labeled as sexual criminals.
Andrew Flaherty, of Jacksonville, was mistakenly labeled a sexual offender on his state ID card, and 42-year-old Tammy Lemasters, of Clermont, was mistakenly labeled as a sexual predator on her driver's license.
News4Jax first reported Flaherty's case two years ago.
Jacksonville attorney John Phillips represented both of the victims.
Both cases were honest accidents. A clerk at the DMV goes to a drop-down menu on a computer screen, and instead of designating the driver as an organ donor, he or she designates them as sexual offender or predator. It's happened four times, according to Phillips, who hopes that with new changes to procedures, the mistake won't happen again.
"She didn't say, 'Check in the corner to see if it says "sexual predator" on there.' She just said '[Check] your name and address,' so that's what I did," Lemasters said. "I did. I put it in my wallet, and I left."
Lemasters called it the ultimate embarrassment, being labeled a sexual predator on her Florida driver's license. But after she threatened to sue the State Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles for defamation, the state changed its procedures within two weeks to prevent it from happening again.
"They've completely redone the system where sexual predator and sexual offender are separate, and there's not one but two, 'Are you sure?' type warning screens," Phillips said.
Phillips, Lemasters' attorney, said the state made three changes to the computer system that make it almost impossible to label someone's license incorrectly. Phillips also represented Flaherty, a blind man who lives in Jacksonville who was incorrectly labeled a sexual offender on his license.
"The Andrew Flaherty situation, he tried to go onto a naval base with his brother and was detained," Phillips said. "People give the government the benefit of the doubt."
Two years ago, Flaherty talked with News4Jax reporter Vic Micolucci.
"Wow, I was completely floored," he said. "I've never been accused, much less being convicted of something that horrible."
DMV clerks are also now required to blow up a photo of a person's driver's license and have the customer and another clerk review it for accuracy. The state implemented the changes within two weeks of Lemasters' lawsuit threat, which Phillips considered swift justice.
"It is a story of David and Goliath, because you have a legally blind man and a mother of three literally change the statewide computer system," Phillips said.
Phillips said the sexual offender and sexual predator designations did not carry over onto any other state documents for his two clients.
Flaherty passed away earlier this year. His family recently settled his case.