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Exclusive: Mistaken identity arrest

Sarah Wallace has the exclusive report.
March 7, 2014 3:36:44 PM PST
A harrowing case of mistaken identity - a New Jersey man who was pulled over in Georgia was accused of being a fugitive. He was taken on a 10-state odyssey before authorities figured it all out.

33-year-old Omar Sullivan has never been arrested, and was pulled over in Georgia a month ago. Sullivan was accused of being someone else who was wanted in Essex County

Investigative reporter Sarah Wallace spoke exclusively with Sullivan.

What's disturbing is that both Omar Sullivan and his family provided evidence that he was not the wanted suspect. Sullivan didn't look anything like the suspect, and nobody listened; he went through 26 days of hell.

"They pulled me over and said I'm a fugitive from New Jersey," says Sullivan.

Sullivan's odyssey began in February when he was locked up in Atlanta, Georgia as Steven Sylvester, wanted on a fugitive warrant from Essex County, New Jersey.

"They handcuffed me and shackled me, and put me in a paddy wagon with about 6 other people," adds Sullivan.

Sullivan's nightmare actually began in 2008 after he lost his wallet. His identity was reportedly stolen by Steven Sylvester, who had been arrested for drug dealing and gun possession. Sullivan then got a notice to appear in Essex County court.

"Omar goes down there and says, 'it's not me, it's not me," says Sullivan's attorney, Patrick Metz, "they fingerprint him, they check the fingerprints on the individual Sylvester, who was actually using his ID and they see if it's not him."

The court clerk gave Sullivan a "safe passage" letter clarifying the mix-up. Somehow Sullivan's fingerprints were still in the law enforcement data bang as Sylvester's. He says the police in Georgia did not want to hear about the letter, and put him in a van with several other prisoners.

"You couldn't move, you couldn't stand up straight; we used to cross our fingers and hope we got to use the bathroom," adds Sullivan.

It was a 10-state trip - from Georgia to Tennessee, to South and North Carolina, through West Virginia into Kentucky, Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and finally, to Newark, New Jersey. This 10-state odyssey went on for 3 days.

Sullivan's mother, Valerie Murphy had gone to the prosecutor's office and showed them the mug shot of the real Sylvester, but he remained in the Essex County jail for several more days.

"When we went to court, they said they were going to deny him bail, they didn't want to hear they had the wrong person," says Murphy.

Sullivan finally got out - the prosecutor's office decided the easiest solution was to drop the charges against Steven Sylvester.

Sullivan, who is a manager of a storage facility in Atlanta, is worried about losing his job because of his false arrest. What is also devastating to him is that while he was in custody, his dog died.

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