73ºF

ID theft victim jailed for another man’s crime

Agencies missed multiple opportunities to confirm identities

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Aside from a few minor traffic-related incidents, Jonah Scott Miller has never been in trouble with the law.

However, earlier this year he spent the night locked up in jail for a crime he did not commit.

"It was hell. It was horrible," said Miller, who was arrested by police during a routine traffic stop. "I stayed up all night worrying, trying to figure out how this was happening to me."

Unbeknownst to Miller, a transient with a lengthy criminal record had stolen his identity several months earlier, court records show.

As a News 6 investigation reveals, multiple agencies missed opportunities to confirm the identities of the transient and Miller before the innocent man was incarcerated.

“I worked hard not to go to jail,” Miller said. “And I’m here now for something I didn’t even do. And it’s not even me.”

THE TRAFFIC STOP

Miller was cruising down Main Street in Daytona Beach on his motorcycle during Bike Week in March when two Daytona Beach police officers waved him over because the biker was not wearing the legally required eye protection.

Video from the officers' body-worn cameras recorded the traffic stop.

The officers were about to issue Miller a warning for the traffic infraction when a police dispatcher notified them by radio that the biker had a warrant.

A third police officer who was in the area, Dawnmarie Harris, got on her radio to verify.

"Does he have a possible (warrant)?" Harris asked.

"Yeah. It was buried under a whole bunch of aliases," replied the dispatcher. "Jonah Miller has numerous aliases and social (security numbers) if we can verify the subject."

The dispatcher shared one of those aliases with the officer.

"The other name it's coming back to is Zin Mali McDade," the dispatcher said.

As Miller sat on his motorcycle, Harris walked up from behind and placed him in handcuffs.

"You've got a lot of aliases. I need to verify who you are," Harris told Miller.

"I have a lot of aliases?" Miller asked in surprise.

The officer questioned the biker if he knew Zin McDade.

“Do I know a Zin McDade?” Miller replied. “Why do you ask?”

"He has your name, your social (security number), your date of birth," said Harris.

In an interview, Miller said he did not immediately recall the name when the officer asked.

"I knew a guy named Zin but I didn't know his last name," said Miller. "I haven't seen him since middle school."

MILLER’S IDENTITY IS STOLEN

Six months before Miller was stopped by Daytona Beach police, a transient believed to be his childhood acquaintance stole Miller's identity, police reports uncovered by News 6 reveal.

In September 2018, a Cocoa Beach police officer approached Zin McDade at Alan Shepard Park because the man was allegedly drinking alcohol there in violation of a city ordinance.

According to an incident report, McDade told the officer his name was “Jonah Scott Miller.”

McDade also verbally provided Miller’s home address, birth date and last four digits of his social security number.

Officer Matthew Eastman wrote in a report that he “positively identified” the transient as Jonah Scott Miller using Florida’s Driver and Vehicle Information Database, known as DAVID.

Besides displaying a licensed motorist's name, address, birthdate and social security number, the D.A.V.I.D. system typically includes a photograph of the driver.

There is no indication the officer compared any DAVID photographs to the transient standing in front of him.

"That means (the police officer) didn't do his job," Miller told News 6. "We don't look alike. We're not the same height."

Officer Eastman issued McDade a trespass warning under the false name of “Jonah Scott Miller.”

The following day, the same officer noticed McDade loitering at a 7-Eleven convenience store on East Cocoa Beach Causeway.

After contacting the police department’s communications center, Eastman learned that a fellow officer had issued a trespass warning to “Jonah Scott Miller” at that same store the previous day.

Eastman arrested McDade for violating the trespass warning and took him to the Brevard County Jail, where the inmate was booked under the name “Jonah Scott Miller.”

“Our officers acted appropriately in this case,” said Cocoa Beach Police Deputy Chief Wes Mullins. “When Officer Eastman issued McDade a trespass warning in the name of ‘Jonah Miller’, Cocoa Beach Police Department dispatchers confirmed through (federal and state law enforcement databases) that the information McDade provided the officers was correct.”

“Both officers stated that, because McDade was able to provide enough of Mr. Miller’s personal information, there were no concerns about his identity prior to him being transported to jail,” Mullins said.

The following morning, during a court appearance inside the jail, court records show 'Jonah Scott Miller' entered a plea of no contest to misdemeanor trespassing.

The judge issued “Jonah Scott Miller” a $404 fine, court records show.

Nearly eight hours later, Officer Eastman received a phone call from the Brevard County Jail informing him that fingerprints had confirmed the man he arrested the prior day was actually named Zin Mali McDade, records show.

Prosecutors charged McDade with giving a false name to the police.

McDade later pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor and was sentenced to the 39 days he had spent in jail awaiting trial.

News 6 could not reach McDade for comment for this story. Recent police reports list him as being a transient with no home address or phone number. Several phone numbers associated with McDade's relatives were disconnected.

Miller told News 6 he does not know how McDade obtained his personal information.

"I haven't seen him in 18 years. Haven't heard from him. Nothing," said Miller. "So it was a shocker."

MILLER’S NAME LINKED TO MCDADE IN LAW ENFORCEMENT DATABASES

The day after McDade was released from jail for giving a false name to police, the transient shoplifted three cell phone charging cords from a convenience store, according to authorities.

Instead of arresting McDade, Brevard County Sheriff's deputies issued him a notice to appear in court on the misdemeanor petit theft charge.

McDade showed up in court for his arraignment.

But McDade failed to appear at a subsequent court hearing, records show.

On February 14, Brevard County Judge Kathryn Jacobus issued an arrest warrant for McDade.

The bench warrant listed McDade's name, birthdate, height, weight and driver’s license number.

About a month later, Miller found himself in handcuffs as Daytona Beach Police questioned him about the shoplifting case.

"You've got a warrant for petit theft," Officer Harris told Miller.

“Under my name? What?" Miller exclaimed.

The bench warrant was actually under McDade's name.

But the Daytona Beach Police Department's dispatcher obtained additional information about McDade using separate law enforcement databases, according to an agency spokesperson.

Data contained in the National Crime Information Center and Florida Crime Information Center databases, known as NCIC and FCIC, is for the exclusive use of law enforcement agencies and is generally not releasable to the public.

However, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement provides some criminal history information to the public on its website for a fee.

When News 6 purchased a copy of McDade’s criminal history, the report showed he had previously used several aliases including “Jonah Scott Miller.”

The FDLE criminal information report also listed alternate social security numbers and birthdates for McDade, both of which belonged to Miller.

Coincidentally, both men were born in New York, just six days apart.

The criminal history report indicates McDade has scars on his knees and tattoos on his arms, although it does not specifically describe the tattoos.

Coincidentally, Miller also has scars on his knees and tattoos of his children’s names on his arms.

Over the radio, the dispatcher shared McDade's alias information and physical description with Officer Harris.

"Everything matches what you're saying," Harris told the dispatcher. "If you think there's not anything wrong with it, then we'll go ahead and hook him up."

"It's up to you guys," replied the dispatcher. "Everything else that you gave me matches. So I guess he'll need to get it straightened out at the jail."

OFFICER ACCUSED MILLER OF LYING

Attempting to prove his identity, Miller gave Daytona Beach police officers his driver's license and his state-issued concealed weapons license.

Yet Officer Harris was convinced the man she had handcuffed was the same person named on the warrant.

"The problem is, no disrespect, none of the (other officers) knew how to do the background that I do," Harris told Miller. "The background that I did says it's you."

She shared her opinion with one of the rookie officers.

"We don't have confirmation yet, but he's (expletive) lying, OK?" Harris said.

The officer indicated that the physical description of the fugitive described by the dispatcher was similar to Miller.

"I’ve got to be honest, I believed you until I matched your tattoos and your scars," Harris told Miller.

There is no indication that Harris had access to specific descriptions of those tattoos and scars other than the general locations of the body where they could be found.

No photographs of McDade were attached to the warrant to help confirm the fugitive’s identity, according to the Daytona Beach Police Department.

Yet several of McDade’s mugshots from prior arrests can be easily found online, including on the Brevard County Jail website.

None of the officers who detained Miller had a department-issued vehicle, so they did not have access to their computers, according to an agency spokesperson.

Prior to Miller being taken to jail, the officer conceded there was at least one discrepancy between the warrant and the man she was arresting.

"Everything matched except the height," said Harris. "The height said (five feet six inches)."

Another officer asked Miller his height.

"I'm (six feet two inches)," Miller replied.

Since Miller did not file a complaint with the Daytona Beach Police Department within six months of his arrest, the agency is now barred by state law from launching a formal professional standards investigation into the matter.

“Although this incident was complex, there were several ways it could be resolved,” said Sergeant Kelsey Harris, who oversees the police department’s Office of Professional Standards. “The officers made the best judgment that they could at the time, with the equipment they had, and with what they were presented with. Supervisors and senior officers are available to assist with complex cases.”

"We’re transparent with our community, we’re excited to police our community, we don’t get everything right, but we work hard trying to. We own up to our mistakes and hold ourselves accountable to not repeat the process, to make us better," added Sgt. Harris, who is not related to the arresting officer.

MILLER JAILED FOR 14 HOURS

Shortly after Miller arrived at the Volusia County Branch Jail in an inmate transport van, he claims a corrections employee came out to the vehicle holding a photograph of McDade.

“He has the paper in his hand and he puts it to the side of my face and he laughs, 'Ha ha! This is definitely not you!” Miller recalled.

According to Miller, corrections officers immediately knew they were locking up the wrong guy.

"I could have gotten released that night," said Miller.

Instead, Miller would remain incarcerated for more than 14 hours.

"They told me, 'We're going to put you in a cell by yourself because we know this is not you, for your safety," Miller said. "And I appreciated that."

Records obtained by News 6 indicate Miller was held in a maximum-security jail cell even though the warrant was for a misdemeanor shoplifting charge.

"They joked with me and told me, 'Look at it like a jail tour,'" said Miller.

According to a Daytona Beach Police report, Officer Harris contacted the Volusia County Branch Jail to inquire about the use of an FBI fingerprint database to confirm Miller’s identity.

"(The sergeant) advised me the jail was not finding any matches of prints on the defendant and she will attempt to retrieve them in the morning," Harris wrote in a report.

Since Miller had no prior arrests, it is unlikely his fingerprints would have been collected in a law enforcement database.

But McDade’s fingerprints have been taken on multiple occasions following his prior arrests and convictions, court records show.

"Volusia County Corrections uses multiple resources to authenticate one’s identity, including the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Biometric Services Section," said Kevin Captain, Volusia County's interim community information director. "The final step includes verification with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office tech services. This case involved a judge’s order as a warrant, so Corrections staff was unable to release until all verification steps were completed."

The next day, just before Miller was scheduled to appear before a judge in the jail's courtroom, he was released from custody.

"At 12:05 p.m. I had a corrections officer run in my room and told me to grab my (expletive) and hurry and get the hell out of here," Miller said. "And he says to the other officer, 'Oh, we (expletive) up.' They said it out loud."

As Miller was leaving, the longtime security guard claims he received a surprising proposition.

"The corrections officer said, 'Once you're done with this case you can come work with us'," Miller told News 6. "He tried to give me a job."

MCDADE ARRESTED

The same day Miller was released from jail, deputies located McDade in Seminole County and arrested him on the outstanding warrant.

A judge later adjudicated McDade guilty of shoplifting and ordered him to pay $700 in fines.

The charge for failing to appear in court, which led to Miller’s arrest, was dismissed as part of a plea deal.

Miller fears he could be mistaken for McDade in the future and possibly find himself in jail again.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement provides a free service to help identity theft victims who believe their personal information may be included in someone else’s criminal history file.

After providing fingerprints, FDLE works with local law enforcement agencies to try clearing the fraudulent information from the criminal history file, according to the agency’s website.

Miller said he has received no apologies from any of the agencies involved in his arrest and incarceration.

"That's a big error," said Miller. "I could have lost my job."

He has also not heard from McDade.

“Why would you come after me? What’s the reason?” Miller asked of his old schoolmate. “That’s my main question. Why?”


About the Author: