ARTICLES

By Matthew Bowers
The Virginian-Pilot
© February 26, 2011

CHESAPEAKE

John Shelby thought his new bosses at an El Paso, Texas, casino were playing around when they withdrew their job offer for him to manage three of their bars.

They weren’t.

A background check showed he was a felon, and he was supposed to be in the city jail. Right then.

“I made a joke about it,” Shelby said. ” ‘Yeah, I escape every morning to come to work.’ Because I thought they were joking.”

It’s no joke to Shelby now, after more than a decade of losing or being passed over for jobs, which Shelby said forced him to live on the streets for a while.

“I had no idea what was in store for me,” said Shelby, who lives in Chesapeake.

Shelby claims police in El Paso negligently linked his name to someone else’s criminal record in 1997 when that man gave Shelby’s name as his own.

That record pops up when prospective employers run background checks on Shelby, limiting or killing his chances at securing a job.

And that, Shelby argues, violates his civil rights by invading his privacy and ruining his ability to make a living.

More than 13 years after he lost the casino job, Shelby has a $7.5 million federal lawsuit pending against the city of El Paso. At an initial hearing in Texas on Friday, a judge allowed the case to continue and ordered the parties to develop a trial schedule, said Stephen Casey, Shelby’s Austin, Texas-based lawyer and Regent University law graduate.

Shelby didn’t know it, but his ordeal began in 1991 when, at 19, he was arrested on a charge of trespassing at his old high school, according to interviews with Shelby and Casey, court filings and other documents.

Shelby said he was there to pick up a student friend. The school district dropped the charge.

Shelby went on a stint in the Navy, and jobs such as delivery driver and bartender.

Things changed for him when the casino job came – and quickly went – in late 1997.

He learned that earlier that year, police arrested the man who gave Shelby’s name. The man had heard of Shelby through a family both knew.

Shelby and his lawyer say police added Shelby’s personal information, including Social Security and driver’s license numbers, from his 1991 file despite obvious differences in height, weight and age. They also claim in the suit that police didn’t compare fingerprints.

The man is serving a life sentence in Texas for aggravated robbery and engaging in organized criminal activity, according to Texas Department of Criminal Justice data online.

After Shelby lost the casino job, police at first told him the problem was “cleared up ” and gave him a letter stating so.

But the erroneous record lived on in various databases that background-check companies use. Shelby’s name remained listed as an alias for the other man.

Jobs became elusive. He’d get passed over and not know why. The Postal Service hired him as a carrier in Suffolk and then, according to his suit, a supervisor fired him for “dishonesty” because of his record check. Shelby had already begun orientation; instead, Shelby said, he became homeless.

Repeated calls to El Paso authorities proved fruitless, although they expunged his 1991 arrest record by January 2008. He also called elected officials. He started a website, www.goodnamegone.com.

Meanwhile, he obtained entry-level jobs, but the record thwarted promotions. He gave up his dream of becoming a kindergarten teacher. He hasn’t tried to vote, having been told the felonies on the record would forestall registration.

An El Paso police officer’s “fervent desire to ‘ fill in the blanks’ ” on an arrest report did far-reaching damage, Casey, the lawyer, wrote to El Paso officials in a September 2010 letter seeking a settlement.

“You’ve got this bell that’s been rung by the city of El Paso and it can’t be un-rung,” Casey said in an interview. “All they can do is clean up the mess.”

An El Paso police spokesman and a city spokeswoman said they couldn’t talk about Shelby’s situation because of the pending suit.

Brian Falco of San Diego previously worked with an organization that combated identity theft, and Falco has continued trying to help Shelby. He called Shelby’s situation unusual; solving such problems takes time and money, making them low priorities for busy law-enforcement officials, he said.

“Ever deal with a bureaucracy?” he asked in an interview. “If you’re wrongly installed in there, it takes an act of God to get it out of there…. Because some paperwork is messed up, you shouldn’t not be able to get a decent job.”

At age 39, Shelby delivers pizzas because that’s one of the few jobs he can land without a background check.

He hasn’t been able to save for retirement or college for his two young children. He and his wife, a saleswoman, have no health insurance. Finances are so tight, in fact, they’re moving today to Florida because they no longer can afford their Greenbrier home.

“I’ve had my moments when I’ve been straight-up depressed,” Shelby said. “It’s been a heck of a hard road.”

Shelby said he has tried looking at the past 13-plus years as a learning experience – “how to overcome adversity, maybe.”

One lesson learned, he said, has been to not tie his self-worth to a job, but instead to things like being a good father and husband.

He jokes his wife, Bethany, remains “so positive it annoys me.” But there are limits, she said.

“The main thing, really, has been watching that zest dwindle from John,” she said. “It makes me sad….

“They see it as one mistake. They don’t see it as 10 years of building a crappy resume… that affects the rest of your life.”

Both hope the lawsuit changes things.

“If this doesn’t work, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Shelby said. “I can’t deliver pizzas all my life.”

Matthew Bowers, (757) 222-5221, matthew.bowers@pilotonline.com

See the video of this news story at:

http://www.ktsm.com/news/full-story-identity-theft-ruins-mans-employment-chances

By Lindsey Reiser – Multimedia Journalist
Tuesday, December 28, 2010 – 5:39pm

A man in Virginia Beach says his identity was stolen in El Paso, and now his failed background checks have prevented him from getting a job.

John Shelby had a arrest on his record in El Paso; it was a trespassing charge that he says was dropped before it went to court. But because his name and mug shot were in the system, a suspect could easily steal his identity by using his name upon arrest. And that’s exactly what he says happened.

“He didn’t have anything but my name when he was arrested,” Shelby said. He says a man named Jason Newton used his name when Newton was arrested.

“It kind of caused an identity crises for myself a little bit,” Shelby said. Years after his criminal charge in El Paso was dropped, he applied for a job, but was turned down.

“They said at that time I was in El Paso County Jail according to their background check,” he said. After some calls, Shelby thought it was taken care of.

“The officer sent me a letter and it said I had no record on file and it was all taken care of,” he said.

Shelby tried to move on, but every time he applied for a job, he was always passed up. Frustrated, Shelby turned to the El Paso records department. But they told him to hire a lawyer if he wanted his name cleared.

“That I needed to take responsibility for my own life and stop blaming them for my misfortune,” Shelby said.

“We need to have tight safeguards on this to make sure it doesn’t ruin someone’s life,” said Shelby’s attorney in Austin, Stephen Casey. Casey says several people are at fault for what’s happened to his client. But how could this have happened? Newton and Shelby have different hair colors, eye colors, heights, and weights. Casey thinks someone just pulled up Shelby’s prior arrest and didn’t verify that Newton was telling the truth.

“Originally it was the people who put in the information for the arrest report of Jason Newton,” Casey said. “They didn’t verify the information.”

Shelby’s background checks still show those arrests and he says delivering pizzas is the only job he’s been able to get.

“I gave up on school because I figure what’s the point, I’ve never had a job I feel suitable for,” Shelby said.

We’re told Newton is serving a life sentence right now in the alleged beating of a man. Shelby has filed a lawsuit against the city of El Paso for identity theft. We called the city for comment and they said they couldn’t comment because it was a police issue. We called police and they told us they could not comment, even on their procedures upon verifying someone’s identity upon arrest, until they consulted with the city attorney’s office.

Here is an article published by Mr. John Hall with the El Paso Times:

Navy vet sues city over info on criminal record

Posted: 12/14/2010 09:43:50 AM MST

The city of El Paso faces a multimillion-dollar lawsuit that alleges the Police Department mishandled records and personal information of a man who could not get jobs as a result.

According to the suit filed in district court last week, disabled Navy veteran John Shelby is suing the city for $7.5 million, alleging that he has lost or been denied several jobs that required background checks because the crimes of another man using his name as an alias were incorrectly attributed to him and placed on his criminal record.

The city attorney’s office declined to comment Monday, citing a standing policy not to discuss pending legal matters.

According to the suit, Shelby was arrested in 1991 on suspicion of criminal trespassing, which was dismissed.

The suit alleges that Jason Newton was arrested twice in 1997, once for robbery and a second time for burglary of a vehicle and evading arrest. The suit says that both times. Newton identified himself as John Shelby.

On both occasions, the El Paso Police Department released Newton despite the fact that he was wanted in connection with an attempted murder in Mc Kinney, Texas, the suit alleges. Newton is now serving a life sentence for his part in that crime, the suit says.

Shelby’s personal information, including his Social Security number and place of birth, was filed on the arrest records made under Newton’s alias of John Shelby.

Shelby’s attorney, Stephen Casey, maintains that instead of actually verifying Newton’s


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identity, the police imported information from Shelby’s 1991 arrest.

Due to these mistakes, Casey argues that Newton’s criminal record was essentially attributed to Shelby and, as a result, Shelby has failed a series of background checks since 1997, making him virtually unemployable.

Shelby has made several attempts to clear his record over the years and was eventually able to get Newton’s criminal history expunged from his record in 2009.

“He’s basically had to be a pizza delivery driver or work in a seedy bar for the last de cade or more,” Casey said. “This has been the focus of his life, trying to get this corrected.”

The suit charges that Shelby’s privacy was violated and that he was defamed by Police Department records.

John Hall may be reached at jhall@elpasotimes.com; 546-6371.
Press Release Issued Yesterday 10-13-2010

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CITY OF EL PASO SUED FOR IDENTITY THEFT

El Paso, Texas – The City of El Paso received notice of a multi-million dollar lawsuit today concerning the role of the City of El Paso Police Department (CEPPD) role in the identity theft of John Shelby.
The suit alleges that in November 1997, Shelby attempted to apply for a job in El Paso but was refused because of a background check showing he was at that time incarcerated in the El Paso city jail. Shelby followed up at the jail and discovered the police actually had in custody a man named Jason Newton.
Newton had given Shelby’s name when arrested by CEPPD. Newton knew of Shelby’s name through acquaintances and only gave Shelby’s name. Shelby got a letter from CEPPD for any future background checks which explained he was not Newton. But the mixup did not stop there and went deeper than Shelby could possibly know at that time.
Over twelve years later, after many failed jobs, firings, and multiple periods of homelessness, all due to failed background checks, an assistant district attorney for the El Paso District Court helped Shelby get
an expunction of the criminal charges for his record. When Shelby received the paperwork back from that process in January 2009, he found out the awful truth: CEPPD had caused the identity theft.
Shelby had been arrested in 1991 and the charges were dismissed; however, his information was still within CEPPD’s system. Newton had not given any other identifying information upon arrest except Shelby’s name. CEPPD had imported Shelby’s former Texas Driver’s License Number, Social
Security Number, date of birth, height, weight, hair color, eye color, and place of birth from dismissed 1991 arrest. CEPPD had also twice released Newton under Shelby’s name despite the fact that Newton was wanted at the time for capital murder and despite having falsely identified on the
arrest sheet that the information on Newton had been verified through both Federal Bureau of Investigation and Texas Department of Public Safety databases.
Shelby, a disabled veteran who is married with young children, demands justice. “My life and that of my family have been essentially destroyed because CEPPD did not do its job. They “filled in the blanks” with no concern that all of the information was wrong.” He continues, “I’ve not been able to
get any job that requires a background check and have been fired from multiple jobs because of CEPPD’s intentional substitution of my information onto Newton’s arrest record.”
His attorney, Stephen Casey, agrees. “CEPPD is privy to such private information that for them to flippantly fill in information that is wrong on its face is intolerable. Shelby and Newton are nearly seven years apart in age, six inches different in height, forty pounds different in weight, and have
different eye color, hair color, and so there is no way CEPPD verified Newton’s fingerprints in any way.” “Few people can relate to the decades long tragedy which John Shelby has had to endure simply
because CEPPD did not do its job,” Casey added. “I would hate to think that a dismissed arrest could result in having a faulty conviction for multiple felonies.”
Shelby’s suit seeks damages in excess of seven million dollars. The City of El Paso City Council voted to deny Shelby’s claim. Shelby still believes the city should compensate him for the tragedy it caused.
CONTACT STEPHEN CASEY AT 512-238-3117 FOR QUESTIONS

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