Philadelphia, PA–Excerpted from Man pays for county mistake: He lands in jail and loses job over wrong ID in support case (Patriot-News, 11/16/08):
When Walter Andre Sharpe Jr. signed for a certified letter from Dauphin County Domestic Relations in 2001, he didn’t know he was signing on for a seven-year nightmare.
Since then, the Philadelphia man has been thrown in jail four times, lost his job, become estranged from his four children and spent more than $12,000 to support the child of another man.
It finally stopped in May 2007 when a judge reversed a finding that he was the father.
But the same judge has since ruled that Sharpe is not entitled to any compensation, not even the money he was forced to pay to support the child.
Sharpe’s attorney, Tabetha Tanner, said the county Domestic Relations office “stole” Sharpe’s identity by exchanging his date of birth, address and Social Security number for that of the father.
The agency fought Sharpe’s attempts to have DNA testing and said it determined he was the father “after reasonable investigation.”
Yet it took The Patriot-News less than an hour to track down the real father, Andre Sharpe, who said the girl that Walter Sharpe has been paying support for has been living with him for the last four years.
But in court papers, Domestic Relations blamed Walter Sharpe, a former trash collector, for not filing the proper motions in court to “disestablish paternity.”
“What type of investigation were they doing if you can track this guy down in less than eight hours?” Walter Sharpe asked. “It just pisses me off. I tried my best to clear myself of this case, and it fell on deaf ears. It’s like I’m guilty until proven innocent. I’m just another man crying, ‘I don’t know this person. I don’t have their kid.’ It’s a routine they’re just used to.”
When Walter Sharpe received the certified letter on Feb. 6, 2001, he knew the complaint for child support was a mistake.
Andre Sharpe had a different date of birth, a different Social Security number and different previous addresses.
Andre Sharpe also had an 11-year-old daughter with a woman in Harrisburg, and Walter Sharpe knew he had been to Harrisburg only once, to register a car. He also knew he hadn’t fathered a child to a woman named Terri Jones on that trip.
So he ignored it.
The letter required Andre Sharpe to attend a Domestic Relations conference on March 6, 2001.
On May 29, 2001, since neither man attended the conference, Dauphin County Judge Scott A. Evans, as required by law, issued a ruling finding that Walter Andre Sharpe was the father.
A month later, Domestic Relations entered an order requiring him to pay $447 a month support along with $5,730 in arrears.
When the agency attached his wages at the trash company J.P. Mascaro & Sons, Walter Sharpe told his boss there was a mistake. He then received a notice from Domestic Relations telling him to come in to verify his claim of mistaken identity.
Instead of fixing the error, the office changed the personal information on the case to match his, Tanner, his attorney, said in court documents.
“Incredibly, without any order of court or hearing, Domestic Relations stole the identity of [Walter Sharpe] by willfully substituting his biographic information for that of the biological father’s,” Tanner said in those documents…
Walter Sharpe couldn’t keep up. He had been paying child support for his four children from a former marriage in Montgomery County, but the new burden overwhelmed him.
When he fell behind on support for his real children, their mother inquired about it and believed he had fathered another child while they were married. She cut back on his contact with his children, he said.
Then Walter Sharpe started getting locked up on contempt charges for not keeping up with support payments. He was sentenced to six-month jail terms four times — Nov. 15, 2001; Dec. 23, 2003; March 23, 2004; and Aug. 16, 2005.
Read the full article here.
No doubt the child support system’s defenders will blame the victim, saying he didn’t do enough to clear himself. Of course, he did do a lot, but even if he didn’t, so what? The government now has the right to demand that a totally innocent man participate in a court procedure, and if he doesn’t recognize its importance, make him an indentured servant for 18 years?
Make sure to call or write reporter Pete Shellem and commend him for writing a fine article on this important, oft-overlooked issue. He can be reached at (717) 255-8156 or email@example.com.