Gina Carr recently became a different kind of victim of identity theft. Instead of having her credit stolen, the 28-year-old Scottsdale medical office worker found herself jailed for another woman’s crime.
"This just doesn’t happen in real life," said Carr, whose life took a dive Jan. 8 when a Scottsdale police officer pulled her over for expired license plate tags.
She expected a ticket and a fine. What she got were handcuffs and a ride in a squad car.
Before patting her down for weapons, the officer told her she was wanted on a felony warrant for possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia, stemming from a traffic stop on Oct. 18, 2000. Though stunned, Carr didn’t panic.
"I knew as soon as we got to the police station, they would see from the mug shot it wasn’t me."
But the officer who made the traffic stop in 2000 didn’t book the suspect into jail — which meant no photograph and no fingerprints to exonerate Carr. The arresting officer, Andrew Parker, also didn’t verify the Social Security number the woman gave him — which turned out to be for a 48-year-old woman with a different name.
The car wasn’t registered to Carr, either, but there’s no mention of that in Parker’s report. The address was wrong, the weight was wrong. About the only thing right on the report was Carr’s height — 5 foot, 10 inches — just as it states on her driver’s license, which she thought was lost or stolen in 2000. The missing license was never reported to police.
"Who knows if the girl even had my driver’s license, because the officer didn’t even write down a driver’s license number on the report," Carr said. "He says that he checked registration, proof of insurance and driver’s license, which showed to be a valid license for Gina Rachel Carr, yet there’s no license number. And then he never says anything else about the registration or the proof of insurance."
According to Scottsdale Police Department’s general orders, all felony suspects are to be booked into jail. No exceptions are cited under booking criteria. In misdemeanor cases, when officers are allowed the discretion of issuing citations, they must verify that person’s identity.
Parker declined a request for an interview. Scottsdale police detective Sam Bailey, department spokesman, said the officer "possibly" violated policy, particularly because the woman admitted to a felony — that she had methamphetamine in her purse.
But the face sheet of Parker’s report doesn’t even cite drug possession.
It recommends littering and drug paraphernalia charges only. Even so, the paraphernalia, a Class 6 felony, still would have required a jail booking.
There is no evidence that Parker, at the minimum, issued a citation for the littering charge, Bailey said.
"It may have been appropriate for him to arrest her at that time," Bailey said. "I’m not saying he should have done that, but it may have been appropriate. And he didn’t do that. He allowed her to go on, believing he had proper identification from her."
The woman may have resembled Carr’s license photo, he said. "You know, those aren’t done in a photographic studio. You don’t always look the best or even yourself lots of times in those photos," he said.
A court summons was mailed out when tests proved the "crystal like" substance in the woman’s lipstick tube was methamphetamine. When no one showed up, a felony warrant was issued.
More than three years later, Carr spent six hours in a jail cell because of that warrant.
Her parents bailed her out at about midnight with $2,000 cash.
Then she and her family hired an attorney, who, in turn, hired a private investigator to clear her name.
Her name was finally cleared earlier this month. Prosecutor Harold "Hawk" Brenneman asked a judge to dismiss the case. He said Motor Vehicle Division records, uncovered by Mesa private detective Scott Decker, support Carr’s claims "that her identity was used by unknown third parties at the time of this offense," court documents state.
Carr drives a 1996 Volkswagen Jetta, the same car she drove in 2000. Parker stopped a black 1991 Geo Storm. Carr said she doesn’t know anyone named Veronica Sarabia, the woman on the Geo’s registration along with a man, Francisco Del Castillo.
Decker contends no one knows Sarabia, whom he described as a ghost.
"There was no driving license, no driving history, no address, . . . ," he said. "I tried very hard to find Veronica. And I could not, which is a real big red flag to me, because I can track down just about anybody unless they never existed."
The only document he found was created when MVD issued the Geo’s title.
It gives no physical description and lists a birth date that would make her 103 years old.
Though now unneeded, Carr’s former employers were willing to testify she was at work when Parker made his traffic stop, she said.
Carr said she was a live-in nanny for two physicians in DC Ranch in Scottsdale at the time.
"They didn’t get home until 5:30 at night most of the time and I was always preparing meals or helping with the kids," she said. "The girl was pulled over at 5:08 p.m. on a Wednesday in the Thomas and Hayden area. There’s no way I could drive from DC Ranch over here."
Parker’s report also said he pulled the Geo over after the woman tossed out a cigarette. Carr said she hasn’t smoked since high school.
Now Carr is considering if she will pursue a formal complaint against the officer or a civil action against the city.
"I’ve had to miss so much work going to court dates. I was stressed. I was depressed. I was sick," she said. "But part of me just wants to move on."