On September 12, 2011, a S.W.A.T. team busted into a Santa Cruz home and arrested a woman named Haley Wright. The local newspaper the next day noted that Wright was one of 24 people scooped up in a major narcotics sweep. She and the rest were allegedly linked to a Mexican drug cartel.
She spent 30 days in jail. Then, after her bail was lowered to an amount her family could pay, she spent another two months on supervised released. Then all charges were dismissed.
Authorities, it turned out, may have arrested the wrong person. In the meantime, Wright lost her job and a Google search of her name leads to a story about a major narcotics sweep of Mexican drug cartel associates.
On Tuesday, she sued the city of Santa Cruz.
Wright claims that she was targeted because police mixed her up with another individual with a similar name. A week into Wright's jail stint, the suit states, her cellmate, Brigette, told her that one of their co-defendants, Richard Allen Brady, had a girlfriend named "Hallie"-- pronounced the same way as Wright's.
Wright, from the start, professed her innocence, the court documents note, however the authorities only continued to pepper her with questions like "Come on, you don't know Perro?" The complaint, filed in federal court in San Jose, alleges that Santa Cruz police had photographs and voice recordings of Hallie, yet did not exonerate Wright for weeks. The complaint theorizes that Wright, of all people with that first name, was targeted because "police officers remembered Haley's name due to an encounter years earlier."
Santa Cruz County has a reputation for having reasonable pretrial detention policies, but that didn't show here. Instead, the complaint suggests, a harsh bail system compounded the police department's error.
During Wright's first bail hearing, the judge denied her bail. At the next hearing, the judge set the bail "incredibly high," though the suit did not specify. Then at the third hearing, a month after Wright's arrest, the judge lowered her bail to $20,000, which her family was able meet.
For the next two months, she lived as any other defendant released on bail. She surrendered he passport and had to check in with authorities regularly. Eventually, Wrights attorney corralled photos and recordings of "Hallie" from some of the defendants. The suit notes that these were the same bits of evidence in police possession.
The attorney then set up a meeting a U.S. attorney and several law enforcement officials.
"They played the phone conversations and compared Haley's voice," the complaint states. "They viewed multiple photos they had of the real criminal Hallie. They unanimously agreed they had the wrong person, and immediately realized they had to release her."