Records list man incorrectly as fugitive Assault suspect mistaken in Va. arrest warrant

October 01, 1998|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

A Westminster man, who was arrested Friday on charges of throwing a beer can at his girlfriend, soon learned that the assault charge was the least of his problems.

When Westminster police took Steven A. Richardson, 24, to headquarters for processing, a routine background check showed an outstanding Virginia fugitive warrant against him.

"I've never been to Virginia in my life" is the story Richardson repeated throughout his five-day ordeal, proclaiming his innocence. Part of his troubles ended yesterday after Virginia authorities visited Westminster and confirmed he was not the man they sought.

Richardson, who had been raised by his grandmother since birth in Mount Airy and recently moved to an apartment on Sullivan Road, offered a theory of what might have happened.

He said he lost his wallet about two years ago and figured someone found it and used his Social Security card and a Motor Vehicle Administration photo identification card.

Police in Danville, Va., apparently made an armed robbery arrest and confiscated Richardson's cards from a suspect.

Before they were able to get the suspect to jail, however, the man escaped, leaving police holding Richardson's identification cards.

The physical description of the Virginia suspect matched Richardson's.

Lt. Randy Barnes, spokesman for Westminster police, said his officers heard Richardson's story and had doubts, but had no choice other than to take him before a District Court commissioner about 1: 30 a.m. Saturday.

"Our officer went out of his way to let the court commissioner know that the man we brought in might not be the same person Virginia police wanted," Barnes said. "The commissioner even called Virginia and tried to determine if [Richardson] was the one they wanted."

Unable to resolve the matter by phone, the commissioner had Richardson held without bail on the fugitive warrant, but released Richardson on his own recognizance on the assault charge.

At a bail review hearing Monday before Judge JoAnn M. Ellinghaus-Jones, Richardson pleaded his innocence and proffered his theory on the lost wallet. He told Jones he never thought to report its loss and obtained new cards.

In court, the defendant's grandmother, Anna M. Pittman, 79, of Mount Airy agreed that Richardson had never been to Virginia.

After Richardson waived extradition, Jones gave Virginia police one day to pick him up in Westminster and return him to Danville to resolve the matter.

"Virginia authorities came with a photograph of their suspect and said [Richardson] wasn't the right man," prosecutor Melissa O. Hockensmith said yesterday.

The state dropped the charges and Jones signed an order for his release yesterday.

His troubles haven't ended, however. His assault charge is set for trial Jan. 7.

In charging documents, police said they were called to a domestic dispute about 10: 45 p.m. Friday.

Autumn Naille, Richardson's girlfriend and the mother of his child, told police her boyfriend threw a beer can at her, striking her in the head, police said.

Police found minor bruising and red marks on the woman's head, and arrested Richardson.

Attempts to contact Richardson yesterday were unsuccessful.

Pub Date: 10/01/98

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