Name mix-up in sexual battery case sends wrong Clay County teen to jail for 35 days

Cody Lee Williams (left) was wrongly arrested for sexual battery. Cody Raymond Williams (right) is due to appear in court on the charge Monday.  The Florida Times Union – by Topher Sanders

Cody Williams was arrested in late August, charged with the sexual battery of someone younger than 12.

The 18-year-old Clay High School student spent 35 days in jail.

One problem: He was the wrong Cody Williams.  

Three officers have received formal counseling for their role in the wrongful arrest and another officer faces a 10-day unpaid suspension and a transfer from investigations to patrol.

Deputy Sheriff Johnny Hawkins of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office will learn Tuesday if he will receive that punishment.

“As a result of your incompetence, an innocent man was arrested for an offense that he did not commit,” Sheriff Rick Beseler told Hawkins in a February disciplinary letter.

Hawkins’ phone number was not listed or available Monday evening to seek comment.

A girl younger than 12 told Clay Sheriff’s officers in 2013 that on or around Halloween 2012 she had sex with an older boy she identified as Cody Williams. The girl’s exact age at the time wasn’t released by authorities.

The girl told police investigators what the boy looked like and where he attended school. Without showing her any photos of possible suspects, the sheriff’s office sought the arrest of Cody Lee Williams.

Cody Lee Williams, of Green Cove Springs, was arrested two months later on a sexual battery charge.

He was 17 at the time of the reported crime and was promptly charged as an adult by State Attorney Angela Corey’s office.

Williams, who has had legal trouble in the past with marijuana, said he was aghast by the charge when he was arrested at his home.

“I can’t even tell you the horror of hearing those words,” said Williams. “My heart just started beating really fast and all my insides just kind of dropped.”

Sheriff Rick Beseler said his department has policies in place intended to prevent these types of wrongful arrests.

“If those policies had been followed then this wouldn’t have happened,” he said. “This is not a routine problem. That’s why the supervisors are even being held accountable. We take this stuff very seriously.”

Beseler noted such an occurrence is rare, considering that the office arrests between 7,000 and 8,000 people a year. Jim Pimentel, department general counsel, said in the past 10 years there was only one other allegation of wrongful arrest.

In December, the sheriff’s office requested Cody Lee Williams’ arrest in the case be expunged.

When Hawkins, who interviewed the victim, thought Cody Lee Williams was the suspect, he failed to show her his photo to confirm he had the right person, according to an internal report on Hawkins’ investigation.

“He stressed that he usually will show a photo lineup but could not explain why he did not in this incident,” according to the report.

It wasn’t until Williams went to court in early October and was given documents with the details of the charges against him that he put the pieces together. He called his mother from jail and told her he believed police were actually seeking someone else named Cody Williams.

Both teens attended the same schools since seventh grade and were born the same year, Cody Lee Williams said. He said he knew Cody Raymond Williams, but didn’t run in the same social group.

“We were just two guys with the same name at the same school,” he said.

The two students shared the same teacher, though in different classes, and that teacher called them by their middle names to avoid confusion.

After Cody Lee Williams called his mother from jail, she reached out to Hawkins, who immediately began looking into the matter and conducted a photo lineup with the victim.

Hawkins included Cody Lee Williams’ photo in the lineup and asked the victim if she saw the person she had sex with in the lineup.

“She stated he was not there and then pointed at Cody Lee Williams and stated, ‘I do know this Cody Williams but this is not the one,’ ” according to an October report by Hawkins.

Hawkins said he asked the girl why she didn’t mention that there was another Cody Williams during earlier conversations and “she had no answer,” according to the report.

The internal investigation found that Hawkins failed to properly identify a suspect, failed to properly document information obtained in the investigation, made inaccurate statements in reports and failed to properly document actions taken in an investigation.

Attorney Kristopher Nowicki, who is representing Williams in his potential civil action, said a photo lineup could have prevented Williams’ arrest.

“It seems that there was no investigation done other than my client’s name,” he said. “It is not Cody Williams’ obligation to investigate crimes on behalf of the state of Florida.”

Deputy Sheriff Jason Wright, Sgt. Daniel Moreland and Sgt. Eric Twisdale will all receive formal counseling for their roles in the Williams case that will permanently be placed in their files.

Cody Raymond Williams, the one police were looking for from the beginning, is due to appear in court on the sexual assault charge on March 3.

3 thoughts on “Name mix-up in sexual battery case sends wrong Clay County teen to jail for 35 days

  1. Notice anything about the State Attorney? very Familiar name that doesn’t really have a good track record. Doesn’t do her due diligence before indicting someone. I have lived in this county for more years than I can count. The Sheriff’s Department is for the most are part very respectful and honest (except for the Motorcycle cops).

  2. Nice to know that a juveniles testimony is considered the truth over the pleas of an innocent person. If juveniles could only grasp the implications of the power they wield over adults we could all be sitting in jail guilty until we could prove our innocence. This is exactly why child services is out of control, they will tell you they error on the side of children, adults be damned, and city and county cops enforce whatever they tell them without the cops investigating it first.

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