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$70K settles mistaken ID lawsuit

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A Rio Rancho man who spent several days behind bars in a case of mistaken identity has settled his complaint with Santa Fe County for $70,000.

John Day, who represents Anthony Ortiz, said the county acted in “good faith” in reaching the settlement, which stemmed from an incorrect Social Security number attached to a bench warrant. A spokeswoman for Santa Fe County confirmed the case was settled in February for the amount quoted by Day, but she could not comment further.

Day said the county did not admit to liability in the settlement. A Santa Fe County Sheriff’s lieutenant investigated the error and called it an “honest data entry mistake,” according to a memo previously obtained by Ortiz’s attorney.

“That’s been the position,” Day said. “But the fact is their actions led to an innocent man being jailed. That’s the reality.”

Ortiz was arrested on an outstanding bench warrant after being pulled over in a traffic stop by a Rio Rancho Police officer in June 2009. Ortiz had no criminal history, but was booked into the Sandoval County Detention Center from June 26 to June 30 before being transferred to the Santa Fe County jail. He was released from that jail later the same day after the error was discovered.

The arrest warrant was issued for another man with the same name who allegedly failed to appear in Santa Fe County Magistrate Court.

A Social Security number was missing from the warrant, so a secretary checked other records to complete the database record. She pulled Ortiz’s Social Security number from a log of an unrelated 911 call he made years ago when he lived in Santa Fe County. Day alleged the staffers thought Ortiz was an unusual name and did not check to make sure it was the same Ortiz.

According to the lawsuit, Ortiz, who insisted that he was arrested by mistake, was ridiculed by jail staff and threatened by inmates.

Day and Ortiz settled with Rio Rancho in August 2011 for $3,500. Day said he and his client decided to proceed against Santa Fe instead of Sandoval County, which filed a motion to have the case dismissed for improper venue, according to news archives. Day said this wraps up the case for Ortiz and he can move on.

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