Jacksonville man mistakenly labeled sex offender on Florida ID

Man says mistake was devastating, humiliating

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Andrew Flaherty recently moved to Jacksonville last year from out of state.  He's legally blind and can't drive, but did as the law requires and got a Florida Identification Card.  

But as he visited banks, doctors' offices and pharmacies, he noticed things didn't seem right and Floridians weren't showing the southern hospitality he had heard so much about.

"Even when my brother from Hawaii came to visit me, he said, 'You got a dark cloud over you for some reason,'" said Flaherty.

This past March, it became clear, when Flaherty and his brother tried to get onto the base at NAS Jacksonville.

"When we gave the ID they told us to pull over and about 30 minutes later, an officer approached our vehicle and said there's a Florida statute on my ID that said I'm a sexual offender," explained Flaherty.

It's a crime for sex offender to try and get on military bases.

"Wow, I was completely floored," explained Flaherty.  "I've never been accused, much less convicted of something that horrible."

We checked and Flaherty's background is clean.  The problem was his Florida ID card.  In the bottom right corner it says 943.0435 FS.  It's a statute that means the person on the ID is a convicted sexual offender.

"Who has formed this opinion of me, that I am a sexual offender?" asked Flaherty.

Flaherty believes it was a simple mistake, with terrible damage.  He has hired Jacksonville attorney John Phillips to look over what happened.

"Here's a man that did nothing wrong, lives on the absolute right side of life and all of a sudden has been called the worst of the worst," said Phillips.

Channel 4 did its own investigating and looked for answers, taking Flaherty's situation to the people who gave him the ID in the first place: the Duval County Tax Collector's Office.

"It was not an intentional thing.  It was a mistake, absolutely.  Human error," explained Sherry Hall, Duval County deputy tax collector.

Hall says one of the clerks accidentally clicked the wrong box when creating Flaherty's ID.  They use a state computer program to make the cards and there are a series of boxes to click, which classify people as organ donors, insulin dependent and sex offenders.

Once we brought Flaherty's problem to their attention, the Tax Collector's Office took action. Hall says they let their employees know what happened and will train them on ways to avoid it. They also are working with the state to possibly make the program a little more fail-safe, so this doesn't happen again. And now Flaherty's new ID is clean, just like his record.

"We absolutely apologize that this error caused him any issues at all.  We have corrected this issue since it occurred.  We are certainly very sorry he was the recipient of this mistake," said Hall.

Hall adds that this is the first time a mistake like this has ever happened in her office, but she says the markings on the IDs and licenses are important.

Channel 4 crime and safety analyst Ken Jefferson says police need to know who they're dealing with and having the statute clearly labeled certainly helps.

Flaherty says he couldn't agree more, but thinks clerks need to be more careful so no one else is wrongly accused.

"I hope that this lets everyone know that this is possible.  And if it happened to you, you need to go and get this changed," said Flaherty.

The Tax Collector did send a formal apology letter to Flaherty and did refund his money for the original ID with the error on it.

To make sure this doesn't happen to you, the Tax Collector's Office says check and double check and license or ID you receive before you leave the office.  If there's something that doesn't seem right, or even if there's just something you don't understand, ask.  The employees will be happy to look it over again and fix anything that's incorrect.

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