Six California Department of Insurance officers arrested 62 year old Maria Elena Hernandez before sunrise, cuffed her, and drug her off to the Los Angeles County Jail. She protested that they had arrested the wrong person. It took two months before they confirmed their mistake.
When her 25-year-old son stepped toward the detectives to ask for official paperwork justifying the arrest, an officer pointed a gun at his head, Hernandez and her daughter recounted.
Kincaid, the Department of Insurance spokeswoman, said law enforcement officers are trained to have their weapons drawn from their holsters “until entry has been made and the residence or individuals have been secured in a safe manner.”
Her arrest warrant was issued after the California Department of Insurance confused her with an insurance fraud suspect, who had used a false date of birth as well as a first and a last name that matched Hernandez’s.
But it is very difficult to understand how an observant team of peace officers could have made this mistake. They had in their possession a photograph of the real suspect, and it did not match this Maria Hernandez, a common Hispanic name.
Hernandez spent nearly two days in the county’s jail in Lynwood before her family managed to bail her out. Her family now owes $2,000 to a bail bonds company. And Hernandez, who cleaned homes for years but is now retired, faces another bill of $1,470 for a medical exam conducted at the direction of jail staff.
According to the story in the Los Angeles Times, the events that led to her arrest began in the summer of 2013, when a woman made a phone call to Access General Insurance saying she’d been the driver of a car involved in an accident. She identified herself as Maria Mercedes Hernandez, according to investigative records.
An insurance investigator had a hard time tracking the woman down, but when he finally found her at her South Park home, she verbally confirmed that her name was Maria Mercedes Hernandez and said her birthday was May 2, 1954, though she did not produce proof of her identification. After prodding from the investigator, the records show, the woman admitted that she hadn’t actually been in an accident. She’d agreed to say she had been, she explained, after meeting a man at a nightclub who promised to give her a cut of the insurance money.
Before leaving the home, the insurance investigator took the woman’s photo.
When Department of Insurance detectives interviewed the real woman at her home a year later, they said they recognized her from the photo in the case file and said that she, again, identified herself as Maria Hernandez. Greg Risling, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, said she had given a fake name and birth date. The spokesman said it was unclear if the woman had picked the name and date of birth at random or if she had deliberately used the arrested woman’s identity.
Exactly how insurance investigators mistook her for Maria Elena Hernandez is unclear. Especially when the photograph did not match.
The Department of Insurance spokeswoman declined to explain, citing an internal investigation being conducted by the agency. The district attorney’s office also declined to detail what led to the mix-up or comment on whether detectives know the suspect’s real identity but said the auto insurance fraud investigation is ongoing.