SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. — It was the middle of the night when Seminole County resident Maria Valentin received a knock at the door, outside were two deputies who told her they were checking up on some car break-ins in her apartment complex.
There had been no break-ins. Instead, deputies were at her door to try and serve a warrant from the state. The problem was that they were at the door of the wrong Maria, a fact they did not discover for almost 2 hours, long after Maria was placed in handcuffs in front of her son.
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“I trip and I fall, so I turn quickly on my back. He’s already towering over me and he’s grabbing me. So I now am struggling with this deputy and I’m like, ‘What’s going on? What’s going on? What happened? What happened?’ He’s like,’ Stop resisting. Stop resisting.’ I’m like, ‘What’s going on? I am confused. I don’t know what’s going on,’” Maria said recounting the events of that night.
Maria said as she was on the ground, her son approached the deputies and a deputy pointed a gun at him. The deputy’s body camera was not recording at this moment, and the report does not mention a weapon, with the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office saying there is no indication that a gun was pulled, although the department would not elaborate on additional details.
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Seminole County deputies had been given a warrant from the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, Brevard County had received the warrant from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, and DBPR had been investigating a different Maria Valentin, one who lived in Orange County. Yet somehow on this muggy August night at 4:14, two deputies arrived at the wrong Maria’s door.
The Maria who DPBR was investigating has the same first and last name and same middle initial, however, the two women have different addresses and different dates of birth, facts Maria and her son tried to tell the deputies as Maria sat in the parking lot of her apartment complex with her hands cuffed behind her back.
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“He claimed I was Maria Valentin, but it was a different date of birth. And when I was thrown into the car, handcuffed, I immediately looked at the laptop that they had. The picture of the woman wasn’t me,” Maria said.
The Seminole County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on this incident but did provide bodycam video of the arrest. The video begins with deputies approaching the door then stops resuming only after Maria is already on the ground and in handcuffs.
In the video, Maria’s son can be heard questioning the arrest eventually offering to return to the apartment and retrieve his mother’s ID.
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Just before six o’clock, deputies realized they arrested the wrong person, apologized and Maria was set free. However, Maria is not given a copy of the warrant in fact neither Seminole nor Brevard nor the state has offered to produce the document saying the other Maria may not have been arrested yet.
“She very well could be arrested again by the same police agency and kept in jail this time,” attorney Randall Kallinen said.
Kallinen is representing David Sosa of Martin County, Florida. Sosa has been arrested not once but twice by Martin County deputies due to a warrant for another David Sosa out of Harris County, Texas.
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Sosa, who after the second arrest in four years on the wrong warrant filed a lawsuit against the county and the sheriff’s office, recently had his case denied by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, citing a 1979 Supreme Court case giving law enforcement wide discretion to arrest someone and hold them for days, even if the person on the warrant is not the person in custody. The court wrute, “under Baker, no violation of due process occurs if a detainee’s arrest warrant is valid and his detention lasts an amount of time no more than the three days.”
“The 1979 case of Baker versus McCollan controls and that doesn’t take into account the technologies that they have nowadays where you can just check a person’s story just like that and you pitchers pop up, photographs pop up of a person and, you know, records are the snap of a finger or at the key at a keystroke,” Kallinen said. “You can find them, and you can check this information, so that’s what’s lacking here.”
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Attorneys for Sosa are hoping the Supreme Court will re-visit the Baker decision, updating it to encompass modern technology, meanwhile, Maria is worried the next knock at the door, or next traffic stop will end with her in cuffs again, again facing the same warrant for another person with the same name.
“I get anxiety when I see the cars, especially when they’re in my community,” Maria said. “So even just talking about it gives me anxiety because I’ve never once had an encounter this way. I usually I mean, you speak to a deputy, anyone of authority, and you want to feel safe when you’re speaking to them.”
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