What’s in a name? For the wrong Cody Williams, 35 days in jail

<i>This story has been updated throughout to reflect new developments.</i>

They arrested the wrong Cody Williams, and then kept him in jail for more than a month.

The Clay County, Fla., Sheriff’s Office punished a deputy Tuesday for the wrongful arrest of 18-year-old Cody Lee Williams, who didn’t even share the same middle name as a man accused of having sex with a young girl.

“Other than the name, there’s no other similarities,” Kris Nowicki, Cody Lee Williams’ attorney, told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday. “Cody Williams had never met this girl and didn’t know anything about her.”

According to the Florida Times-Union, which first reported on the story, a girl younger than 12 told investigators that she had sex with an older boy named Cody Williams on Halloween in 2012.

Williams was arrested on Aug. 30 and languished in jail until Oct. 4, the day his mother pleaded with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office to release her son, according to investigators’ records, which the Sheriff’s Office provided to The Times.


“Not only did they not do a photo lineup, but further … they put him directly into adult court, filing an affidavit that not only is it this guy, but he did something” so serious that he should be charged as an adult, Nowicki said. (Williams, the wrongly arrested, would have been 17 at the time of the crime.)

State Attorney Angela Corey’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

After the mixup was discovered, three deputies received counseling for their role in the arrest, the Times-Union reported.

On Tuesday, a fourth official, Deputy Sheriff Johnny Hawkins, was suspended without pay for 10 days and transferred out of the investigative division, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

“As a result of your incompetence, an innocent man was arrested for an offense that he did not commit,” the sheriff, Beseler, told Hawkins in a February disciplinary letter obtained by the Times-Union.

In a statement made after the punishment was announced Tuesday, Beseler said: “In fairness, let me say Deputy Hawkins has a good record with our agency. He has no prior discipline and many commendations in his file.

“In this case, however, he took short cuts and didn’t do a thorough investigation. The result was an innocent man was accused of a terrible crime he didn’t commit. Arresting an innocent person is something we fear far more than letting a guilty person get away. I extend to Cody Lee Williams my apology for this error and we will seek to make things right for him.”

Officials later tracked down Cody Raymond Williams, 18, and arrested him on suspicion of sexually assaulting a girl younger than 12.

According to the Clay County clerk’s office, he was charged on Jan. 23 and was scheduled for a pretrial hearing on March 4.

“They have protocol put in place that prevents this kind of stuff, threshold requirements that you would expect an officer to accomplish to arrest someone for this serious of a crime,” said Nowicki, the attorney for Cody Lee Williams. “I would support any kind of action that would support this kind of harm from happening in the future.”

Part of the confusion over why Cody Lee Williams remained in jail for so long may have come from his past criminal record, according to records from the Sheriff’s Office, which said Williams would have likely faced charges for an unrelated probation violation.

Cody Lee Williams had been on probation for a drug possession conviction and had failed a drug test shortly before his wrongful arrest on the sex-assault charge, the records stated. He was charged with the probation violation after his arrest on the sex-assault charge.

Five days after being released from jail on the sex assault charge in October, he admitted to violating his probation to a judge, who credited him for time served and dropped the case, the records said.

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