Cops Arrest The Wrong Sheila Brown

Thomas Breen photoSeventy-year-old Sheila Brown was arrested, held at police headquarters for nearly four hours, and charged with two misdemeanors — for the crime, it turned out, of having the same name as a different woman 20 years her junior with an outstanding warrant.

Brown was the one calling the cops for help in the first place.

A state court judge immediately dismissed Brown’s case as an example of mistaken identity. Now she is preparing a complaint to file with the internal affairs division of the city’s police department, which she and her lawyer said needs to be more sensitive to how it treats African-American suspects.

Brown, a retired postal worker and former martial arts teacher, has lived in the Fairmont Heights public housing complex on Fairmont Avenue in the Annex for the last 12 years.

According to state court records, police records, a June 4 written statement provided by Brown to her attorney Michael Jefferson, and an hour-long Tuesday morning interview with the Independent at Brown’s apartment, Brown was the victim of mistaken identity by the New Haven police.

Brown, who has limited mobility due to a spate of recent surgeries, said she felt humiliated and upset by the whole encounter. She said she had never before been mistaken by the police or by anyone else for being a different Sheila Brown.

Outside of a 2013 conviction of conspiracy to commit larceny in the fourth degree, Brown has no criminal record. She said the only other time in recent memory that she had called the police was to help resolve a dispute with a neighbor over the use of their apartment complex’s garden hose.

She said her experience with the police last Thursday led her to believe that young officers need more and better training on how to read and act on outstanding arrest warrants.

“If I live to be 109 years old,” Brown said with tears in her eyes, “I’ll never forget that day.”

Police Chief Anthony Campbell said that while the officer may not have violated department rules, he had other options— like calling a supervisor to help straighten out the situation.

“If you’ve got a woman who’s between 50 and 70,” and the warrant involves a misdemeanor, Campbell told the Independent, “do you really want to take the chance you’re arresting the wrong person? Let’s get our heads together. Let’s get a supervisor on the scene or a lieutenant.

“It’s important that we do everything in our power to make sure we’re not arresting the wrong person,” Campbell said. “We could always issue a summons for the person to come to court, or take the person’s information and do additional investigation and make sure we have the right person. It’s not always about grabbing the right person right there.”

He noted that with many retirements in recent years, “We’ve got a young police department that with proper supervision could avoid scenarios like this if they get a supervisor on scene and they work together to come up with a reasonable solution.”

Attorney Jefferson argued that a white woman would never have received similar treatment that Sheila Brown received. He called the case an example of “how African-Americans are devalued in our society.”

According to court records, the police have not yet apprehended the other Sheila Brown, who does have a warrant out for her arrest.

“I Felt Like A Piece Of Garbage”

Brown’s story began on Thursday, May 31, just after 5 p.m. as she and her stepfather Calvin Tate were driving home from picking up a loaf of raisin cinnamon bread at Panera Bread on Boston Post Road in Milford.

While she was on Old Orange Avenue in West Haven, Brown said, a driver sideswiped the left side of her car and then kept on driving. She said she and Tate felt the impact but didn’t know the extent of the damage. She said she followed the driver, flashing her lights and honking her horn to signal him to pull over. About five minutes later, both cars did pull to the side of the road on Davenport Avenue in New Haven, near the intersection of Congress Avenue and Ella T. Grasso Boulevard.

Brown said she was and is still recovering from spinal surgery that took place in January and from a second knee replacement that took place in 2015. Although she had been driving, she asked her stepfather to get out of the car and talk with the other driver. She said she didn’t want to aggravate her knee and back pain by getting up and sitting down repeatedly.

She said the other driver offered his car insurance. Brown noticed that her mirror was scuffed. She decided to call the police to help mediate.

According to the subsequent arrest warrant, the officer who responded to Brown’s call was Officer Justiano Nieves. According to Brown, Nieves asked for her license, registration, and insurance, which Brown provided.

He said by protocol he had to check Brown’s name to see if there were any outstanding warrants for her arrest.

“You don’t have to worry,” Brown recalled telling the officer. “I’m a good person. I don’t have no warrants. … I don’t get into trouble.”

Much to her surprise, the police did have a warrant out for Sheila Brown’s arrest. At least, Nieves said, there was an arrest out for some city resident named Sheila Brown for two misdemeanors, third degree assault and second degree breach of the peace, that she allegedly committed during an altercation with her boyfriend Wesley on March 9.

“This is not me,” Brown recalled thinking as Nieves listed the charges.

Brown said she pointed out to the officer that her birthdate, as listed on her driver’s license, was Feb. 19, 1948. The birthdate of the Sheila Brown with the outstanding warrant was Feb. 19, 1968. Brown said the actual suspect was 20 years younger than her.

Furthermore, she said, her boyfriend is not named Wesley. His name is Miguel. He lives in a separate apartment in Fairmont Heights. They’ve been happily and peaceably together for seven years, she said.

She said that she spent three weeks at Willows Rehabilitation & Nursing Center in Woodbridge after her Jan. 25 spinal surgery at the St. Raphael’s campus of Yale-New Haven Hospital. By early March, the time that the alleged misdemeanors were committed, she said she was still housebound at her apartment, barely able to walk as she continued to recover from her surgery.

Officers Nieves insisted that he had the right Sheila Brown.

According to Nieves’ arrest report, filed at 6:17 p.m. on May 31, he had “normal police contact with Sheila Brown (02-19-48)” earlier in the afternoon. He wrote that Brown had called the police to report a motor vehicle accident, and that he had discovered a “hard copy warrant” out for Brown’s arrest for the charges of second-degree Breach of Peace and third-degree Assault while conducting a warrant protective order check on all parties present.

Prior Confusion

The description of the Sheila Brown with the outstanding warrant, furthermore, was not too dissimilar to the appearance of the Brown he found himself face to face with on May 31.

On March 9, Officer Cesar Gutierrez, the lead investigator into the alleged crimes committed by the younger Sheila Brown, filed a Reporting Officer Narrative in which he describes Brown as “a black female, brown hair and brown eyes, approximately 5’09”, 140 lbs.” His report lists Brown as living at 46 Willis St., and as having the birthdate of Feb. 19, 1968.

But in a supplemental report filed by Gutierrez on April 4, the investigator changed the birthdate on Brown’s warrant.

“On 03/10/18,” he wrote, “I submitted an arrest warrant for Sheila Brown with the DOB 02/19/68. While speaking to IS-6, they stated Sheila Brown date of birth is really 02/19/48.”

The warrant for the other Sheila Brown also included a description with some similarities to the appearance of the older Sheila Brown.

Despite the confusion in the case log, the 70-year-old Brown said Officer Nieves told her during their encounter that the police department’s arrest warrant was for a Sheila Brown born in 1968. Who, she said, he believed she was.

He asked her to get out of the car and handcuffed her, and helped her into the back of his police car, according to Brown.

“I felt like a piece of garbage,” Brown said. She said she felt nervous because she knew the police had the wrong person, and embarrassed because people driving by looking out their car windows must have thought she was a criminal.

Nieves let her make a phone calll She called her 48-year-old daughter Ophelia, who lives on County Street. Ophelia and her husband came to the site of the arrest and tried to convince Nieves that he had the wrong Sheila Brown.

Nieves persisted that he had the right one despite the discrepancy between the birthdate on her license and the birthdate on the warrant. He said he needed a female officer present to pat down Brown and to see if she had any weapons on her.

Ultimately, Brown said, around five or six officers came to the scene.

The officers helped Brown out of the back of the police car, the female officers patted her down, and found no weapons. Brown said she became more and more upset as the arrest progressed. She said she pleaded with the officers to proofread the warrant to learn that they had the wrong suspect.

The officers persisted. Nieves said that Brown would have to be sent to the police headquarters at 1 Union Ave. to be processed. He said she would have to be transported to Union Avenue in the back of a prisoner transport wagon.

Rebuked “By The Blood Of Jesus”

“I was almost incoherent,” Brown said about how upset she was. She said her stepfather was crying from the front seat of their car, and that her daughter and her daughter’s husband were “going bananas.”

“It was wrong,” Tate said about the police officers’ treatment of Brown. “They had no business doing that.”

She said she couldn’t lift her knee to get into the wagon, so three officers picked her up and put her in the back of the car.

She said she got to Union Avenue a little before 6 p.m. She said she had to remove her jewelry and relinquish her cane as she was placed in the department’s holding cell.

For the next four hours, she said, she stood leaning against the wall of the holding cell, not daring to sit down on the bench in the cell out of fear that she wouldn’t be able to get up again without her cane present.

At around a quarter to 10 p.m., she said, officers retrieved her from the cell and took her finger prints.

She said she told the officer taking her finger prints that they had the wrong Sheila Brown. “There’s nothing we can do,” she recalled the officer saying.

“I rebuke all of this by the blood of Jesus,” she recalled shouting as she was being processed. She said she was so upset that she started speaking in tongues, as if she were at church and the Holy Spirit had taken hold of her.

After the officers had taken her fingerprints, filled out the necessary paperwork, and given her a court date for the following day, she said she was taken to a room where she met up with her daughter Ophelia, who was with a bail bondsman. Ophelia had paid the $250 necessary on Brown’s $2,5000 bond. Ophelia informed her that the police had towed her car. She went straight to Fountain’s Garage on Stiles Street, where she remembered $93.58 for its release.

She said she got back to her Fairmont Heights apartment at around 11 p.m., nearly six hours after she had first called the police about the car accident from earlier in the day.

Wesley ... Snipes?

Markeshia Ricks PhotoOn Friday, June 1 at 10 a.m., Brown and her stepfather went to the New Haven Superior Court at 121 Elm St. She said a court clerk directed her to the family court in courtroom B, presided over by Judge Walter Spader.

Once she found the right court room, she remembered a prosecutor pulling her aside and asking her questions about her case. She responded again and again that she was innocent, and that they had the wrong Sheila Brown.

She said the prosecutor asked him about her alleged encounter with her boyfriend Wesley. “I know Wesley from TV,” she remembered responding. “Wesley Snipes. That’s the only Wesley I know.”

“The prosecutors after speaking with Ms. Brown immediately recognized the obvious difference in the birth years and determined that Ms. Brown was telling the truth,” reads a June 4 written statement provided by Brown to her lawyer Michael Jefferson. “She was not subject of the warrant. The judge subsequently dismissed the charges.”

The Superior Court information sheet for Brown’s case simply lists “Mistaken Identity” as the reason Judge Spader dismissed the case.

Even though the prosecutors had pushed to drop the case, Brown insisted that she wanted to make her case before the judge himself. She said she told the judge what had happened to her, and that he apologized for what she had gone through.

Brown said a court stenographer made sure that Brown had copies of all of the relevant court and police files from her case, and then introduced her to Attorney Michael Jefferson, who was also in the courthouse on Friday. She said she met with Jefferson on Monday, gave him a five-page, double-sided account of everything that had happened to her.

African-Americans “Devalued”

Jefferson said he plans to file a complaint with the police department’s internal affairs division on behalf on Brown. He said it is too early to know whether or not he will file any other legal actions, but he is considering it.

“This is something that has to be brought to the attention of the police brass,” he told the Independent. “I just thought it was egregious on the part of the officer [Nieves] and all of the other officers who were associated with it.” He said he couldn’t believe that not one officer stepped forward and insisted that this 70-year-old woman was not the same as the 50-year-old woman with the outstanding warrant.

“For me,” he said, “it speaks to how African-Americans are devalued in our society. I don’t think this would have happened to a white woman. I just don’t believe that.” He said, if Brown was a white women from Morris Cove or the East Shore rather than from a public housing complex in Fair Haven, she would have been given more consideration by the officers.

He said there was no good reason why the officers arrested, handcuffed, and brought Brown to 1 Union Ave. after the incident instead of simply issuing a summons for her appearance in court. Even if she were the Sheila Brown that matched the warrant, he said, the alleged crimes are just misdemeanors, not felonies.

“They need to be taught more,” Brown said about what she would like to see change at the police department so that what she had to go through does not happen again. “It all boils down to honesty,” she said. And, she noted, she didn’t think the officers involved were acting with the utmost honesty when they ignored her actual birthdate and insisted on arresting her.

Paul Bass contributed reporting to this story.

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posted by: repmd on June 8, 2018  2:28pm

Thank GOD this Sheia Brown is a strong women and her friend and family members were calm enough to allow the process to proceed without further injustice. She had to pay to retrieve her car but no one compensates her for this expense. What is the value of having an African-American mayor and police chief when there is no improvement in how Black people are treated on the streets. She called the police for help and was rewarded with an arrest. The police force should have training in implicit bias because it is obvious that the police staff that participated in this arrest did not see Ms Bown as a citizen but only as a perpetrator and ” you know they all lie “.

posted by: 1644 on June 8, 2018  2:29pm

Wow, I never thought there could be a downside to looking twenty years younger.

posted by: Bill Saunders on June 8, 2018  3:11pm


Really sorry this happened to you Sheila..
The same mistaken identity mishap happened to ME too…but it was over in 20 minutes.

Back in November, I was detained for a warrant for some other Bill Saunders who is one year older than me (to the day) and Black.

I filed an IA Complaint—the Officer’s were exonerated. I was unsatisfied with the answer, and still had no real explanation for how my mugshot got associated with a Black Man’s.

I directly asked them via email for corrective actions regarding preventing this from happening again.
I received no reply.

I filed an FOI request, and received the Police Report for the Black Bill Saunders Incident.

In the Police Report, I found that ALL of the Black Bill Saunders information was correct for him—Description, Race, Full Correct Name and aka’s, Expired Driver’s License, CT ID…... and MY ADDRESS.

This problem wasn’t a simple mugshot slip up as I was lead to believe.
The problem started with the Original Officer’s Report!  Unbelievable….

I certainly have another IA Complaint to file to get to the bottom of this…

And now it has happened again?  It was bound too!  Lip Service does not fix problems!!!

Sheila Brown—FOI the Original Incident Report for the Other Sheila Brown.
That is most likely where the answer lives….

NHPD needs to get their shit together!!!!
This is completely unacceptable and apparently, systemic.

posted by: Nathan on June 8, 2018  3:20pm

Did the city immediately offer to pay for the expenses incurred from the bail bondsman and vehicle impoundment?  It’s unfortunate that Attorney Jefferson is playing the race card so quickly, but I hope he obtains a fair settlement for Mrs. Brown on the actual facts involved in the case.

posted by: robn on June 8, 2018  4:21pm

Good grief. No offense to the lovely Ms Brown but can’t our officers tell the difference between a 50year old and a 70 year old person?

posted by: Ex-NHPD on June 8, 2018  4:39pm

Click the link to Gutierrez’s Arrest Warrant Application for the suspect.

His warrant was submitted 3-30-18,  The article cites a supplemental report he did on 3-10-18, reporting he submitted the warrant; I think the 3-10 is 3-30.  It said that when he spoke to IS-6 (that is the Records Division, civilian staffed; NOT the Investigative Services Division reported in this article), he was told that his suspect’s birth year is 1948.  Sentence 8 of his affidavit has the suspect’s birthdate TYPED in as 2-19-68, but the year is crossed out in PEN and “48” is written in.  On the Warrant Data Sheet, the birthdate is TYPED in as 1946, again crossed out in PEN to “48”,  In my training and experience, ALL corrections/cross outs on these forms MUST be initialed by the person performing it.  As presented here in the link, the HARD copy of the warrant shows a birth year of 1948.

I maintain that this is the crux of the mix up that got the wrong person served with the warrant.  Who made the change?  Was it a mistake by Record Room Staff when the warrant came back; did they see 70 year old Brown was already in the system with a conviction and “assumed” that this was the same person from the original incident? Or by them before it went to court? Or was it Gutierrez?

A $2500 bond was set.  In my experience, when an Arrest Warrant is submitted and approved, and it is a Domestic Violence Case, 99.9% of the time, that warrant will have a bond set by the court. NHPD nor any other Law Enforcement Body can release that person on a Promise To Appear/No Bond without Court Authority.

Ms. Brown got caught up in a perfect storm of circumstances.  Mistakes happen when people don’t mean to. I maintain that this could have occured to any one of any race with the same set of circumstances.  If Brown reported the accident in West Haven, where it happened, WHPD might have ended up having her sent to New Haven for the warrant.  Or, any other department that might have come in contact with her.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on June 8, 2018  4:39pm

posted by: Nathan on June 8, 2018 3:20pm

It’s unfortunate that Attorney Jefferson is playing the race card so quickly,

Race Card? Hell. Into today’s climate when it comes to the police and people of color.She is luck she did not get a death card.

Check out these race Cards.

10-year-old boy fit the description, Chicago police say. So they cuffed him

Arizona cops on paid leave after video shows them beating unarmed man

Shopper goes to Victoria’s Secret to get sensor removed from bra, and gets handcuffed

A Victoria’s Secret shopper in Tennessee who was cuffed after getting a sensor removed from a bra says she was racially profiled.Jones Cage was heading to the dressing rooms when the officer treated her like a criminal, she said.“He could have asked, ‘Ma’am, can I search your bag?’ He didn’t do any of that,” she told the Journal-Constitution. “He just came in and (slapped) handcuffs on me. He made up in his mind I was guilty.“Jones Cage says that the manager of the store called police without even speaking with her beforehand.The company offered Jones Cage a $100 gift card, but she turned it down.“I told her a $100 gift card is not going to take back the discrimination, humiliation, defamation that I faced in that store that day,” she told the Journal-Constitution.

Sorry Like I said Into today’s climate when it comes to the police and people of color.These are lucky they didnot get a death card.

My Bad.How come you do not hear about this happening to people who live places like greenwich?

posted by: JCFremont on June 8, 2018  4:41pm

I’m thinking the other Sheila Brown looks 20 years older than her 50 years. Does the NHPD have any of those fancy gadget the television cops have like a mug shot that can be sent to the officer? Enjoy the cash and prizes thanks to your new Haven taxpayers.

posted by: Ozzie on June 8, 2018  4:58pm

Incompetency !!!

posted by: Bill Saunders on June 8, 2018  7:52pm

As I get older, it is harder and harder for me to distinguish age, but I can still tell black from white.
Race and Address are a different story…..

How does this incompetence even exist in this technology age of record keeping????

posted by: challenge on June 8, 2018  11:18pm

Sigh. One must wonder how these officers tie their own shoes each morning.Let me guess. The chief is “disturbed” by how this elder was treated . More training is the resolve. Certainly IA will exonerate officers of any wrongdoing. Next screw up.

posted by: robn on June 9, 2018  8:23am

I went and checked the warrant after reading EX-NHPD’s description. There are hand written corrections (correcting DOB to 1948) and those corrections are NOT initialed. Is the implication here that after the arrest of Ms Brown, an anonymous person at NHPD changed the DOB as a cover up for a botched arrest?

posted by: southwest on June 9, 2018  2:47pm

Ex NHPD I disagree with your scenario a 70 years old woman who’s crippled should have been given a promise to appear and I’m sure some has been given and if it was the same scenario for a white woman with status quo ...guarantees she would not be handled the same…so be honest you no it wouldn’t ...common sense should have prevailed with these we go with the training excuse again to justify officers behavior…why not say they messed up because they were so eager to make and arrest. Case close !!

posted by: Bill Saunders on June 10, 2018  12:33am


I promise to appear would have put Ms Brown into the system and would would take months to resolve.
As they say, the punishment is the process…...

NHPD knew they fucked up, and as ROBN pointed out, maybe blatantly fudged records as cover…

I don’t doubt it.

This is a culture of Cover your Ass. The Thin Blue Line….The Swine Flu…...
Fess up and move forward already… you are not doing the Department a Service…..

This stuff is the worst perpetual Public Relations fiasco NHPD can possibly have…..

There is something very amiss, and they know it…..

posted by: Statestreeter on June 10, 2018  8:31am

Get over it. Mistakes do happen. I was arrested once and held for hours because I had the same name as some deadbeat. I was only after a cop saw me cuffed to a bench and knew I wasn’t the guy I got to leave. Campbell got bigger things to worry about with his department crumbling below his feet than some half assed advice.

Jefferson will get his 33% of the $1000 settlement and find injustice somewhere else I’m sure.

Cant believe this is even news.

posted by: observer1 on June 10, 2018  9:45am

The easiest statement to make is that when you have a hiring process that is as screwed up as ours is, you do not get the best and brightest candidates. I know all the arguments that one gets, when the hiring of people that match the demographics of the city is pursued. I personally believe that if you take politics (who knows or is related to who) out of the system you can hire totally qualified, intelligent city residents who look like the city. You can hire the best and brightest if one is willing to lose a few votes. After this is done we then have to retain these officers, so they are not stolen by the suburbs. Life in the city is tough, and the pay should reflect that fact and make it prohibitive for the suburbs to steal our police officers. Lastly, if you want an intelligent, compassionate, and effective police force change the culture of the organization by changing the leadership. It has been my experience that workers will emulate the example they see being set by the chiefs and top tier of the leadership. There are years of existing culture and attitudes prevalent in the police department. This needs to be replaced with a new culture that promotes courtesy and accuracy when dealing with the public. conversely the public needs to stop baiting the police and let them do their jobs. The police do not make the laws, but they are charged with enforcing the laws. The cops are human, if you provoke them they will eventually respond. Don’t be surprised if they respond in a way you do not like when they are pushed. Treat the cops the way you would want to be treated. If they do something you don’t like, file and keep filing complaints. In most situations; hostile actions, insults, or refusal to follow orders that do not present an imminent threat to your life or safety will result in you being arrested. If you are trying to make a statement, get arrested and go to jail. If you are trying to effect change, comply with officer requests and file complaints.

posted by: NHPLEB on June 11, 2018  5:27am

Did the blood of Jesus guide her when she perpetrated her own crime?  “... a 2013 conviction of conspiracy to commit larceny in the fourth degree”  She’s no angel , as the story implies,  though a mistaken arrest was made, so why paint her as such?
And this warrants all this news space?  Taxpayers are being defrauded left and right in NH and that gets occasional coverage in NHI ( not the Register , which is busy with fires and car crashes).
Ned Lamont already sez he’ll raise taxes and he’s not even governor yet!! (why wait; I guess!)

Why is everything that happens to African Americans the biggest news of the century? Does it suit the media message?  Or does it sell advertising and fan flames of hatred?
Investigate the incident and apply the appropriate consequences but be sure to publish them so all can see justice was served. Otherwise, people are left with the thought that there is no justice and that is not true.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on June 11, 2018  8:40am

posted by: AMDC on June 11, 2018 5:27am

Did the blood of Jesus guide her when she perpetrated her own crime?  “... a 2013 conviction of conspiracy to commit larceny in the fourth degree”  She’s no angel , as the story implies,  though a mistaken arrest was made, so why paint her as such?

What does this have to do with a false Arrest?

posted by: westville man on June 11, 2018  12:35pm

Statestreeter.  I wonder how often you work for free at your job. I know Attorney Jefferson personally, and he constantly represents people for free or at a greatly reduced rate. This is in addition to developing and running his self-improvement organization (Kiyama) and his civic duties, all of which he performs free of charge as well. If you don’t know the man, save your aspersions for people you do know.

posted by: challenge on June 11, 2018  3:58pm

Thank you westville man. A good thing to remember when you don’t have facts and your sole purpose for speaking is to make an attempt to denigrate someone maybe silence is a better action to take. Believe it or not, not everything is about money and trust the settlement will be more than $1,000.  @ AMDC Your point? Does a prior arrest somehow justify the crisis she just endured?  Is that privilege I hear speaking?

posted by: NHPLEB on June 11, 2018  4:05pm

@Challenge:  my comment was edited and I did say that this in no way justifies a false arrest.  Just don’t try to paint people as angels when no one is an angel.  However, since you ask about my point of view,  I myself have no criminal record and am proud of that.  Is that privilege?  If yes; then I’m speaking from my privileged position as a law-abiding citizen

posted by: challenge on June 11, 2018  4:24pm

AMDC, Guess what. Hundreds have spent decades in prison wrongfully accused and were freed due to The Innocence Project. These are dedicated attorneys who don’t collect fees from those they helped win freedom (much like Michael Jefferson). Another fact to take into consideration is the fact when deciding who deserves the angelic wings is the fact that American justice has many flaws beginning with how laws are selectively enforced; therefore, having a criminal record or not doesn’t really tell us much about a person. So again what is your point in bringing up a prior arrest?