Oregon woman wins $101K in false arrest case

PORTLAND, Ore. — Jurors who deliberated less than two hours have awarded more than $101,000 to a Happy Valley woman who spent a night in jail and was sent to court in shackles before authorities in Clackamas County accepted that she had been a victim of identity theft.

The county claimed its deputies were only carrying out an arrest authorized in a warrant from New York, where detectives were investigating a case in which a man had been drugged and robbed, the Oregonian reported Monday.

But the woman, Kimberly Fossen, argued that the Clackamas County sheriff’s office should have known she was innocent: More than a year before they arrested her on the New York warrant, a Clackamas County deputy had told her that her identity had been stolen.

Fossen has described her time in custody as horrific, saying she was strip-searched and paraded in chains before her daughter.

“You really have to experience it to know how it feels,” Fossen told the jury.

Jurors voted 10-2 to uphold her claims of negligence and false imprisonment.

Clackamas County deputies arrested Fossen Nov. 4, 2009, on a New York warrant accusing her of theft.

The woman police were looking for, Minh Thuy Nguyen, had assumed Fossen’s identity. Nguyen identified herself as Fossen when she gave DNA samples during previous arrests.

So when DNA found at the New York crime scene was tested, Fossen became a suspect.

But Fossen’s fingerprints didn’t match those associated with the crimes, and after about 24 hours in custody, she was released.

In a statement Tuesday, her lawyer, John Devlin, said she was in jail 19 hours after the sheriff’s office learned from the State Police her fingerprints didn’t match any on file in the United States.

How Nguyen assumed Fossen’s identity isn’t clear, although Fossen lost purses to theft in 2000 and 2004.

In 2008, a Clackamas County deputy knocked on Fossen’s door and told her that a woman arrested in Las Vegas had a Florida driver’s license issued in Fossen’s name.

Even so, the sheriff’s office carried out the arrest a year later when New York issued a warrant. County authorities blamed the mix-up on New York detectives and a magistrate.

John Devlin, Fossen’s attorney, said the arrest “just didn’t make sense.” He said Fossen was a suburban mom who had lived in the same Happy Valley home and worked at the same restaurant job for years, she’s 10 years older than Nguyen, and the women looked nothing alike.

Nguyen pleaded guilty to larceny charges in 2011 and was sentenced to five years of probation.

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Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

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