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Longview woman wrongly jailed for 2 1/2 months in Upshur County

By Christina Lane
Nov. 14, 2017 at noon
Updated Nov. 15, 2017 at 7:18 a.m.

Jessica Erin Archer (Upshur County Jail photo)

GILMER — A Longview woman who was arrested and jailed for 2 1/2 months for an Upshur County crime she did not commit is on a mission to make sure such a “tragedy” does not happen to anyone else.

“My client’s No. 1 objective is that she hopes her lawsuit, which will be filed in federal district court, will assure that this atrocity will never again occur to an innocent citizen in Upshur County,” said Brent Goudarzi, a Gilmer attorney representing Jessica Erin Archer in her legal action against Upshur County.

Goudarzi described Archer’s case Tuesday as a “tragedy” and a “failure of the system.”

Upshur County Sheriff Larry Webb said Archer was released from his jail Oct. 31 — the same day the sheriff’s office realized it had incorrectly identified her in 2015 as a suspect in a theft of firearm case. Webb, who took office this year as sheriff, was not in office at the time Archer was incorrectly identified as a suspect.

“This is a very regrettable occurrence, and procedures must always be in place to minimize mistakes that impact a person’s liberty,” he said. “Since taking office I have put in place policies and procedures that, if followed in good faith, will significantly limit any chance of a person being wrongly arrested or accused.”

He said that in 2015, a firearm theft in Upshur County involved a suspect with the same first and last names as Archer’s. That led to a computer search that showed Jessica Erin Archer’s identifiers, he said.

The lead investigator on the case at the time, whose name Webb declined to release, used that information to identify Archer as a suspect in the case and sent the information to the district attorney’s office to consider charges. The investigator in the case is no longer employed by the sheriff’s office, Webb said.

In June 2015, an Upshur County grand jury returned an indictment against Archer based on documents that contained the wrong identifying information, he said. A warrant was issued for her arrest.

This year, on Aug. 15, Archer reported to a probation officer in Gregg County on an unrelated case, Webb said. At that time, Gregg County deputies discovered the 2015 Upshur County warrant and arrested her on the charge.

“I want to be clear that Gregg County didn’t do anything wrong,” Webb said. “The deputies acted in good faith based on the warrant.”

Archer was transferred from the Gregg County Jail to the Upshur County Jail, where she remained until Oct. 31. Webb said he received a court order for Archer’s release after the district attorney’s office determined she had been incorrectly identified as a suspect.

Chief Deputy David Hazel said it is commonplace for inmates to tell jailers they did not commit a crime, but the sheriff’s office has a formal procedure in place for inmates to file grievances, which are then investigated. Webb said Archer did not file a grievance while she was held in Upshur County.

“This industry is complex, and mistakes will unfortunately happen, but we must first work to prevent them, then act to correct mistakes when they happen, and we have done that here,” he said.

Webb said the sheriff’s office had been notified a lawsuit might be filed related to the case.

Former Sheriff Anthony Betterton, who was with the office in 2015, did not return calls Tuesday seeking comment on the case.

Archer, reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, declined to comment and referred all questions to Goudarzi.

Goudarzi said he was aware the case dates back to 2015 and that his client apparently was misidentified by a former investigator working under a former sheriff.

“I will first work to verify this fact,” Goudarzi said. “Then I will work to discover why my client was wrongfully arrested and imprisoned and why there were not systems in place to better protect her and all of the public from such a grave miscarriage of justice.”

He is no stranger to representing parties in lawsuits against public entities.

In September, he represented two men in a lawsuit against the city of Gilmer. They had been injured in a wreck in September 2014 when the vehicle they were in was hit by an on-duty Gilmer police officer who failed to yield the right of way. A jury awarded more than $1 million in that case.

“I do not enjoy having to sue either the city or the county, but when an injustice occurs the only thing that can resolve that justice sometimes, sadly, is a lawsuit,” he said.

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