Investigations

Mistaken identity: Albuquerque woman locked up for crime she didn't commit

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) - "It wasn't me," a phrase police likely hear constantly. But this time it was the truth, and the wrong woman was arrested anyway, locked up for more than a month for a crime she didn't commit. 

"It's something horrific to go through," explained Joy Morales. "Never in a million years would I have guessed that would happen to me."

Morales served 49 days in jail, locked up in two different states. She missed Christmas with her young son, and it was all a mistake.  

"I just kept saying that's not me, that's not me," Morales recalled. 

It all started with Devanne Archibeque. In February 2014, Archibeque was driving through Arizona on I-40 when she was pulled over by an officer with the Department of Public Safety. He charged her with aggravated DUI and took her to jail. 

But according to court records, Archibeque, who had no ID on her, gave the officer a different name. She gave him Joy Morales' name and birth date. 

When asked if her wallet or identification was ever stolen, Morales told KRQE News 13, "No. I've always had my driver's license and my wallet, I've not lost it."

Morales said she knew Archibeque from high school in Belen more than 20 years ago, but they didn't keep in touch.

Archibeque was released two days after her arrest in Arizona, but when she didn't show up to court in Arizona for the charge, a warrant was issued for Morales' arrest.

It wasn't until August 2015 that Morales learned about the mysterious Arizona warrant and went in front of a judge in Valencia County to clear it up.

"I told the judge it's not me. You know, compare the booking photo, and then she released me."

Morales said she was told the mix-up was resolved and that the case was dismissed citing identity theft. But the warrant still came back to haunt her a few months later. 

The warrant that wouldn't go away: 

"The reason I stopped you is you didn't stop at that stop sign," Hobbs Police Officer Jayson Hoff told Morales in November 2015. 

Morales was pulled over by the officer in Hobbs, New Mexico for rolling through a stop sign. When the officer ran her license, he found there was still an active warrant out of Arizona for failing to appear on a DUI, extraditable nationwide.

Heard on police audio, Officer Hoff tells Morales, "Turn around put your hands behind your back. You're being placed under arrest, you have a warrant out of Yavapai County, Arizona."

"No I took care of it," Morales told the officer. 

"Listen, let me place you in restraints and then we'll talk more about this, OK?" Officer Hoff said. 

"Somebody else used my name, I took care of it and everything," Morales pleaded. 

Morales recalled those moments in Hobbs well. She had no idea her life was about to take a turn.

"I thought it could be handled right there, I thought he would believe me I guess," Morales told KRQE News 13. But she was arrested, taken to the Lea County Detention Center and held without bond, waiting to be extradited to Arizona. 

Morales said she pleaded with everyone she could, begging them to compare the original Arizona booking photo and fingerprints to hers, to prove they had the wrong woman.  

"They just passed the buck basically," Morales told KRQE News 13. When asked what the judge in Lea County told her, Morales responded, "Wait till you get to Arizona, wait till Arizona talks to you, just wait."

Waiting was all she could do, spending Christmas locked up away from family. Officers eventually made the trip to Lea County and flew her to Arizona. 

"I told the officers right before I got on the plane, they were holding the photograph and I said, 'Look it's not me' and he said, 'That's good enough for me.'" 

"Anywhere along the line, you know, it is possible for those people to take action," explained Cammie Nichols, Morales' Attorney. 

Nichols is now representing Morales in a civil rights lawsuit against the City of Hobbs, Lea County Board of Commissioners, the Hobbs Police Department, and the officer who arrested Morales. 

"This isn't a person with power. This isn't a person with wealth," Nichols explained. "This isn't a person with connections. This is, you know, a person who nobody was listening to."

In the days she spent locked up, Morales said she filled out inmate request forms asking to speak to an attorney, without success. 

She said her family also tried to help, contacting Lea County authorities with supporting documents to support her mistaken identity case. 

"Defendants still took no action or investigation into Plaintiff's credible claims, including...failing to conduct a simple examination of readily available booking photographs and fingerprints," the lawsuit states. 

The lawsuit also states Morales was subjected to "harassment and sexual assault" behind bars in Lea County.

Read the lawsuit here >>

In total, she spent 49 days locked up before she said a warden in Arizona eventually approached her with Archibeque's original booking photo in hand, and finally let her go.  

Morales said the warden told her, "I'm so sorry, what can we do to get you back home?"

Charges against Morales were finally dismissed. 

Who is held responsible? 

Nichols told KRQE News 13 this is probably the clearest case of mistaken identity she's seen. 
    
More than two years after the original traffic stop in Arizona, court records show Archibeque was finally charged. She pled guilty to aggravated DUI and criminal impersonation. 

Arizona court records obtained by KRQE show Archibeque was sentenced to a year for criminal impersonation and five years supervised probation for the aggravated DUI charge. 

Morales and Nichols agree, the thought that anyone can use your identity without even showing an ID is scary. 

"It can't be that simple just to give somebody's information and their whole life change," Morales said.  

"You know we all think of maybe 'frenemies' we had in high school or somebody who didn't like us for some reason, maybe we didn't even realize," Nichols explained. "And it's pretty easy to get someone's date of birth these days if you have a Facebook page and your birthday's on there."

To this day, the nightmare still haunts Morales. 

"It's just really hard," she said. Morales has gone to counseling, working to pick up the pieces since her wrongful arrest. 

"Well I can never get my life back. That time with my son, my family," she cried. 

Morales has told her story again and again, trying to get people to listen. She's hoping this time, her voice will finally be heard. 

"I was telling the truth," she said. 

Morales has already sued Arizona for the mix-up. That case was settled for an undisclosed amount.
    
Hobbs Police wouldn't comment on the lawsuit, citing pending litigation. 
 


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