Jailings Over Mix-Up in Names Bring Suit

Times Staff Writer

Chicago: The City of Big Shoulders. And to Roberto Perales Hernandez, the City of Big Trouble.

Perales, 31, an unemployed auto mechanic from Inglewood, said that twice in the last three years he has been picked up by police and held in Los Angeles County Jail as a suspect in a 1985 Chicago residential burglary.

“They said I had a warrant in Chicago,” Perales said this week. “I said, ‘I’ve never been to Chicago. How could I have a warrant there!’ ”

Not the Same Man

The answer, Perales says, is that authorities have confused him with another Roberto Hernandez. Perales commonly writes his name in the Spanish style, with his mother’s maiden name last--Roberto Perales Hernandez.

Perales has filed a lawsuit in Torrance Superior Court, charging the Hawthorne Police Department, Los Angeles County and the state with false imprisonment, infliction of emotional distress and civil rights violations stemming from the most recent arrest last year.


Perales had previously received a $7,000 settlement from the county, which held him for 12 days in 1986 on the Chicago warrant before realizing he was the wrong man, said his attorney, Raul Lomas.

Attorneys for the county, the city of Hawthorne and the state said they will not comment as long as Perales’ new lawsuit is pending.

The confusion centers on a single entry in a computer database that provides police throughout the country with information.

Computer’s Listing

The National Crime Information Center computer lists a Roberto Hernandez as wanted by the Cook County, Ill., Sheriff’s Department for a 1985 residential burglary. The wanted man is described as 5 feet, 8 inches, 160 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes and a tattoo on his left arm. He was born on Feb. 2, 1958. No middle name is listed.

Perales describes himself as 5 feet, 8 inches, 140 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes and tattoos on his left arm and hand. He, too, was born on Feb. 2, 1958.

To add to the confusion, Perales reports a Social Security number that differs by only one digit from the one listed for the wanted man.

Perales said he first became aware of the Chicago warrant on Feb. 24, 1986, when Inglewood police arrested him for drunk driving. The Tijuana, Mex., native said he was held for 12 days at Los Angeles County Jail. He was subsequently placed on probation and had his license suspended for three months.

Settlement Reached

After reaching the $7,000 out-of-court settlement with the county, Perales said, “I thought everything was OK in their computer.”

But on March 15, 1988, Perales said, Hawthorne police stopped him because his car registration stickers had expired. Their computer found two outstanding warrants--one for an unpaid ticket for not wearing a seat belt and the other for the Chicago burglary.

“I said, ‘I can’t believe this. I’m going back to county jail!’ ” Perales said. “I told them, ‘I’ve been through this once before and they found out it wasn’t me.’ ”

Court documents show that Inglewood Municipal Court Commissioner Wesley A. Russell ordered Perales released the day after his arrest, saying that a night in jail was sufficient penalty for the seat belt ticket.

But sheriff’s deputies cited the Chicago warrant and said they would not let him go, Perales said.

Perales said he feared he would lose his job and that his wife suffered severe anxiety, because the couple is still in the process of applying to be legalized under the amnesty program.

He was held for seven days before jailers freed him with no explanation. County officials will not say why Perales was released.