(INDIANAPOLIS) - Two employees of the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles were suspended for failing to catch a license suspension mistake that landed a pregnant woman in police custody for more than ten hours.
Russ McQuaid reports that Ashley Smith, 29, was driving on Binford Boulevard in Indianapolis on President's Day last month when she was stopped by an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer.
"She tells me she looked up my information and that my license was suspended for life and that I'd be placed under arrest," said Smith.
However, the officer and the BMV records were wrong.
Smith's social security number had been confused with that of a South Bend man with a bad driving record who had his license suspended for life.
The BMV knew it because Smith had contacted the agency in 2011 when she received her first notification of license suspension.
"So I contacted the BMV, gave them my information and they said it was all cleared up," said Smith.
Well... yes and no.
"The correction was noted and we did delete the violations from her record," said BMV spokesman Dennis Rosebrough. "But the suspension, for some reason, was not deleted."
So when Smith, four months pregnant at the time, was pulled over on the city's northeast side, the officer thought she had a lifetime license suspension, even though her record was clean.
"She calls her lieutenant. He explains to me the situation that when they pull my license plate up it comes up with a suspension," said Smith. "It shows my picture and ID and that she was following proper protocol."
What followed for Smith was a trip to Wishard Memorial Hospital to monitor her pregnancy in light of the stress of the arrest and then several hours at the Arrestee Processing Center.
"That night was probably one of the worst nights in my life," said Smith. "I don't know if you've ever been arrested. You go through the whole process of fingerprints and getting your picture taken. I was actually, for some reason, asked to get undressed completely and to do some things, I guess, to make sure I wasn't smuggling anything. To say it was a humiliating experience, it doesn't even capture it especially when you're four months pregnant and you didn't even do anything."
Charged with a class C felony, Smith was bailed out just minutes before being transported to the Marion County Jail. Within days, her attorney and the BMV figured out the paperwork mistake and the charges were dropped. Smith lost approximately $5,000 in costs and still does not have a driver's license.
"We did suspend two employees involved in the process," said Rosebrough. "This was an isolated incident where a process wasn't followed appropriately. There are some checks and balances and in this one they didn't occur."
The BMV processes more than 800,000 court documents a year.
"Sometimes people are telling the truth," said Smith, "And I would hope there would be a process in place to separate the good from the bad so it doesn't have to get this far."
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