I was arrested by the Dallas police department on October 1st, 2009. It was early in the morning and I went to a local 7/11 to get a money order to pay my rent, because I don’t write checks (then you have to balance a checkbook, and who has time for that). I was listening to the old professor with one ear to my cell phone and the store clerk with the other ear, so I had to ask her to repeat herself when she told me that my money was counterfeit. I hung up on my professor and argued with the clerk to check them again, after all, I’d just got that money from Chase bank less than 24 hours before. Unbeknown to me, a Dallas police officer was standing directly behind me in line. He snatched the money from the clerks hand and eyeballed the money in the fluorescent lights before agreeing that it was indeed counterfeit money. I was shocked and very afraid of what was going to happen. I’ve done some crazy stuff, but never would I imagine doing something this so risky.
The police officer, Sergeant Gorley, who works in the North Central Precinct, waived to his squad to come in and put their donuts and coffee on hold as they interrogated me about the money. Gorley, the lead officer, repeatedly asked me if I was a Muslim or a terrorist, then threatened my salvation. He stood next to me near the restroom, with his hand on his gun, whispering derogatory things to me about Islam, though I’d never answered his question about my faith, nor was dressed in traditional Islamic attire. His supporting officers stood and waited, every so often casting an evil glance my way. I remained silent. Ironically, the day before this mess, I was fired from my job at T-Mobile for telling my boss to shove the promotion and salary I’d just received up his ass. I share this, because one of my former co-workers, Shannon, happened to come into the store while the police surrounded me. He asked if everything was okay; fearing he’d be harassed I just waived him away. Gorley and his guys wanted to stop him and arrest him as well. I waited by the restroom for two hours while the Secret Service came to question me. This, as Gorley said, was big trouble. This was federal.
The Secret Service took me into the 7/11 office, which felt like a walk in freezer, and questioned me about the money. Luckily for me, I have a photographic memory, and though I’d visited the branch the day before, I didn’t forget a thing. Again, I got fired, so the day before was kind of burned into my consciousness. I explained to the two agents that I went to the Chase bank branch in Frisco, TX, before work. It was one of two branches that I used. I recalled the transaction down to tiniest details – date, time, amount withdrawn, description of the bank tellers who assisted, what I did the rest of the day, etc, etc. After an hour or so of questioning, the secret service agents searched my car and found my bank receipt as well as other things corroborating my story. They gave me some authorization form, probably allowing them to search my home at any time, and I signed as quickly as I could, thinking I would be free to go home for the day. The secret service seemed to be at ease.
But Gorley and the Dallas police weren’t letting me get off the hook so easily. I was sitting with the secret service agents, feeling almost relieved, thinking “hey if the feds don’t want me, the state surely won’t waste my time.” I thought wrong, no sooner had the secret service agents disappeared was my SUV was being loaded onto a tow truck and taken to someplace in South Dallas. And I was handcuffed and put into the back of Gorley’s squad car. He continued his insinuation that I was a Muslim terrorist and kept trying to provoke me. I remained silent.
When I got to the Lew Sterrett jail, I’d be lying if I said I was calm. I’ve actually been in jail before. But being locked up for a drunken fist fight is nothing compared to felony Forgery. I sat worrying about the consequences of my mistake and worrying that the state of Texas was going to railroad me no matter what. I couldn’t call anyone. I don’t have much family in Dallas. The only person I know who has a home phone is my grandmother and I didn’t want to worry her until I knew the depth of the situation. I did what anybody in jail does and asked the other inmates what they thought of my chances of being free. Nobody knew much about felony forgery charges. Most didn’t believe I was innocent. They kept asking me to hook em up with the counterfeit money as if I could replicate it myself. If you ever get locked up, don’t talk details with the other inmates. Those guys don’t know shit about anything but drug and gun charges. The only valuable information I learned was that if my bond was low, chances are they wouldn’t prosecute me. So I waited into the middle of the night, praying that the magistrate judge set a low bond. I prayed everything I’d heard about the Texas legal system was hoax.
When I stepped in front of the magistrate, my hands were sweating more profusely than the day before, when I’d nervously told my new boss he can kiss my ass. To my great relief, my bond was set at 1500.00. Less worried that this ordeal would be life changing, I called my grandmother in Chicago, and told her the news. I didn’t have access to my bank account, so my grandmother called a friend of mine locally in Dallas to come and bond me out. I woke early the next morning, waiting to be freed. Morning turned into afternoon, and still nobody came to the 10 man cell I was in. I freestyled and talked with the other inmates, trying not to worry too much. I called home and my grandmother confirmed the money for bond was already paid and I should be free. As it turns out, the Dallas County Sheriff entered me into the system as Ryan Michael Jones, and not Ryan Shonte Jones. As much as I hate my middle name, the mistake was delaying my freedom. Worse yet, Ryan Michael Jones is a white male and repeat offender, so anybody with any sense could have saw the mistake if they gave a damn. “We go by prison ID number they said.” “I’ve probably got his prison ID number too”, I argued. But they didn’t care, I stayed in jail all night, until finally, one of the correction officers was willing to look at the file and see that I was too black to be Ryan Michael Jones. They checked the bonded list and finally I was released.
When I stepped out onto Industrial Blvd., I had no idea where my life was going. I’d just given up on my job, in pursuit of improving my own company. Now I had a huge roadblock in the way. My plans for becoming an educator were put on the back burner. Any promotional events or concerts I had planned or were working on were secondary to clearing my name. I called lawyers all over Dallas. Attorney Jeffrey Grass advised me to take a lie detector test. For $5000.00 (one of the cheapest rates!) he all but guaranteed that a truthful lie detector would force the district attorney to drop the charges. I had $6700.00 to my name, and as bad as I wanted to be free, I couldn’t afford to be broke with no job and no exact time frame as to how long his suggested process could take. So I went home and waited. I was waiting for the grand jury to indict me or the district attorney to dismiss the case. The only problem was, the district attorney could wait up to two years to indict me, so I’d have to manage for a long time on the $6700.00 I had saved. I had faith that the whole thing would end. There was no case. I am not a felon. I don’t have a record. I don’t have any receipts for ink cartridges and I have never been into an Office Depot. There was no way I was going to jail. I just had to sit and be patient. Due process. Due time.
One week turned into two, then a month went by and still no indictment. I called the Dallas County District Clerks office so much that the ladies who searched the records typed in my birth date before I even gave it to them. After a month with no movement, they advised me to contact the arresting agency, all the while reminding me, the charge can stay open for up to two years, so be patient. So, I was patient. I checked in with my bond company weekly and tried to live as normal a life as I could.
When I called the arresting agency, the Dallas police department and they advised me to call the Forgery unit. I called the Forgery unit and they advised me to call the detective. I called the detective investigating my case, Detective Russell Stevens, and left numerous voice-mails and never received a call back. I talked to the sergeant at the station and he advised me that I would get a call as soon as Detective Stevens was in office. I never got a call back from Detective Stevens. December came around and my patience was thinning. I went to visit the station and was turned away. My bond company told me to just keep checking in with them. The charge that I assumed would disappear wasn’t going anywhere. I had no idea what was happening on the other side and no way of getting any information since Detective Stevens wouldn’t return my calls.
I failed two background checks with school districts before I realized that an open felony charge is just as damaging as a guilty plea. After nearly a decade of doing customer service work and managing customer service departments, I couldn’t even get the entry level customer service jobs that nobody wants, like collections and telemarketing. I was learning the most important thing about the legal system. You might be innocent until proven guilty inside the courts, but in the private domain where employers use public information to scout employees, I was guilty until proven innocent. Nobody hires someone with an open charge, not knowing if their new employee will be in prison or not before benefits kicked in.
I was conditionally hired from over a dozen companies, including AT&T, Verizon, United Healthcare, GE, and Conexis, then fired after failing the background check. Needless to say this did some damage to my self esteem and self worth as a worker. With a shrinking bank account and still no information on my situation, I filed for unemployment insurance to help balance the budget. I regretted not spending every dime I had on a lawyer when I still had enough to pay for a lawyer. No I was defenseless. My calls to the Dallas police department, Detective Russell Stevens, and the district clerk became more sporadic. I checked in once or twice a month, hoping for new information, but still nothing changed.
I almost adjusted to my life being at a stand still. I brushed up on my American Literature, studied Spanish, and even wrote a novel of sorts when I could muster myself to be positive and productive. I put more time into my blogs (loser) then I’d ever before. I spent the mornings in the gym or sleeping (slacker) extra hours. I got used to the clerk telling me my case hasn’t been filed nor dismissed. I got used to my bondsmen conferring the same information. I stopped expecting Detective Stevens to give me a call back. I got used to logging into the Texas Workforce Commission website to request payments for unemployment insurance. I got used to sitting on my ass and playing John Madden and NBA2K. If the state of Texas was going to wait 2 years to drop the case, I got used to the idea of doing nothing for two years (down-trodden). Being happy doing nothing lasts but so long, for me at least.
One day in the middle of May, while leaving my apartment complex, I was flagged down by two officers standing in the street. No sirens. No car. I should’ve stepped on it. And honestly I thought to, but I had no reason to run, so I pulled into the library across the street from my house. The police officers approached and told me that I was being stopped for an out of date state inspection sticker. I didn’t know I needed to get an inspection once a year, so I expected to get a ticket and go on about my day. The officers decided to not give me a ticket and they let me go, only after running my drivers license for warrants. As happy as I was to get going, I was more upset by the fact that the officers referenced the arrest in 7/11 before they even told me what I was being stopped for. As far as they were concerned I was a criminal. I immediately went to the closest Firestone and paid for a new inspection. A few days later, while driving on Timbeglen, a squad car pulled me over, and the same officer from before approached me, saying he pulled me over to make sure my sticker was updated. He referenced the previous arrest again, then began to ask me if I sold weed or drugs. I ignored him so he said he’d search my car if I didn’t tell him. Of course I don’t sell drugs. I called the police station to place a complaint on the officer, and who else picks up the phone but Sergeant Gorley. He says that the officer did nothing wrong so there is no complaint to make. He refuses to take a statement or a complaint from me. I start to wonder if maybe they know I’ve been calling Detective Stevens regularly and if this is some kind of an evil game they are joking about at the station. I go to the central station downtown, where a friendly officer advises me that all complaints must be filed in person. I was already upset by the lack of action on the alleged charges, but when I learned that Gorley intentionally misinformed me on the process, I knew something was going on behind the scenes. At least I felt there was something amidst.
There were alot of different ways I could have handled the lack of attention and service from the Dallas police department. Sitting and waiting was no longer an option. After a few visits to the District Clerks office and an attempt to retain a public defender, I learned that the only way the case would be closed without being filed was if the arresting department, Dallas police, closed the case. I called the Forgery unit every day from June 30th to July 30th and left extremely polite, but urgent messages for Detective Stevens. No callbacks. Through sheer persistence I was able to track down his commanding officer who advised me that Detective Stevens would call me soon and advised me to follow up with him at the end of the week. Detective Stevens never called. He did finally pick up my call though, minutes after I spoke to his Sergeant again. (I learned that the Dallas police department has caller i.d., and they weed out unwanted calls. Good use of a great phone feature, except they are here to serve the people, so you know, maybe they abuse this too much and/ or should not have that privilege.) When I finally connected with Detective Stevens and explained my ordeal, he all but confirmed he did receive all of my calls and messages when he told me that he already did his part and he doesn’t have to do anything else. His part, he says, is to investigate and take a case to the D.A. (just like those guys on The Wire I guess). He told me he did his investigation and closed the file on October 7th, 2009, six days after the arrest. I asked why the case was still open and he told me to take it up with the district clerk. Of course the clerk said call back to Dallas police and have them send it over again. After 3 more calls to his commanding officer, Detective Stevens finally took 5 minutes out of his time to call to the Dallas police departments legal team and research what was going on. The legal team said they would send the information to the district clerk asap, and my case would be dismissed within the week. As happy as I was to hear the news, I was just as upset that the ordeal lasted nearly a year, because somebody didn’t do their job right the first time, but more because Detective Stevens flat refused to call me back and still talked to me as if I was wasting his time. When I was arrested, the other money and belongings I had were taken, and I needed to talk to the commanding Sergeant again just to get Detective Stevens to fax a release on my things to the property unit. To the property unit officers surprise, my money was still there, although it was four hundred dollars short, not including the two $100 counterfeits that were confiscated by the secret service. I didn’t waste time complaining. After all that I’d gone through, I expected the city to rob me of that money too. At least I had gas money to get out of town. I needed a break.
This morning I spoke to David Daniels in the District Clerks office, and after some digging in a few systems, he was able to find the clearance from Dallas police department, finally dismissing the case and bringing me one step forward to clearing my name. But I can’t be happy with the outcome. My life was on hold for a year. I have to pay $252.00 to expunge the arrest from my record, even though I was innocent. I am out of the $200.00 my friend loaned me when he bailed me out as well as the $187.00 for towing and storage of my truck while I was in jail. I am definitely still out of the $200.00 in counterfeit that I am 100% sure came from Chase (sad to say, but I am still a Chase customer. I’ve closed my big accounts so they can’t use my money for loans, but didn’t see the point in switching banks when all banks have the same policy- if you leave the building with counterfeits – its your problem. They don’t mark bills like we believe they do. Avoid my ordeal by only accepting $20 bills from your teller. They might be counterfeit still, but you won’t be out of $200.00 like I am) Most importantly, my investments have yet to make money, so the inability to get gainful employment is deeply affecting my money. Its going to be a long time before I’m happy. I can pay the fees, but why should I? There not even tax deductible.
My name is clear. My record will be non existent when I pay to expunge it. But who is going to take the blame for this delay in procedure that nearly ruined my life. If I hadn’t have reached out to the sergeant, would I have ever heard from Detective Stevens? If he did his part on October 7th of last year, great, but why not have the courtesy to return a call or give guidance on where I should call? Yolanda, on the Dallas PD legal team, advised me that their department did their part last year, and placed blame at the district clerks office for not updating the right records. If that is true, then why did David Daniels say they just got the clearance letter dated on August 2nd of this year. After all of these calls and being bounced around and told to wait and call back, I understand the process, I think. Dallas police arrest and investigate, the sheriffs office jails and submits the details to the district clerk, and the district clerk waits for the charge to be filed so they can fine and collect money. Somewhere along the lines, somebody made a mistake.
I’m going to pay the fees, not just to clear my name, but to attain a copy of every piece of paper in their offices with my name on it. Somebody is lying to me, and I’m going to figure it out. And when I do, I’m going to need them to explain themselves to me. That’s the least they can do while I put my life back together. In the grand scheme of things, I have had it up to here with this failed legal system. I’m starting to understand why people blow up government buildings.
P.S. I will definitely keep you posted on the situation as it develops.