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Mistaken identity lands college student in slammer for 4 days

Posted at 7:45 PM, Nov 29, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-29 17:51:58-05

(WJZ) -- An 18-year-old college student says he is traumatized after Havre de Grace Police mistakenly throw him in jail. They claim he was wanted on a federal warrant.

As the U.S. Marshal’s Office found out, they had the wrong guy.

Jawon Johnson, 18, is a freshman at West Virginia State University. He even plays on the football team as a wide receiver.

“I never thought I would be sitting in jail, especially for something I knew for sure I didn’t do,” Johnson said.

But on Saturday night, he put on a different uniform after he says he was pulled over by a Havre de Grace police officer for making an illegal U-turn. He expected to be handed a ticket, but after an hour he was handcuffed and taken to the Harford County Detention Center on a federal warrant.

“I told them the picture wasn’t me. They continued and insisted on, in fact, it was me,” said Johnson. Jawon, with an “o”, was accused of being another Jawan Johnson involved in a burglary case in D.C. The man wanted by the federal government spells his name with an “a”.

It took police four days to realize their mistake. All the while, Johnson sat behind bars innocent.

“I was in the cell 23 hours a day,” he said.

Johnson was brought to federal court in Baltimore. His fingerprints were finally ran and his picture was sent to prosecutors in D.C. and, of course, they found he was not the Jawan Johnson they were looking for.

Jawon’s mother wants disciplinary action taken against the arresting officer.

“I just felt like he was thrown in shark infested waters,” Juanita Johnson said.

Havre de Grace Police failed to return our request for an interview, but told our media partner, The Baltimore Sun: “The department honestly thought it had the right person. A comparison of a photo on the warrant and Jawon Johnson’s drivers license seemed to match up.”

“They could’ve released him not knowing that this was the correct man. Now that you have the wrong man, I have to sit and do time,” Johnson said.

Johnson does not have a criminal record. He says he wants to be a sports broadcaster once he graduates from college.

Jawon’s family is seeking legal counsel at this time.