The names may sound a little alike, they may look alike, but they're not the same. And now a police department in Maryland is finding out the hard way what happens when you confuse the two.
See, Jawon (with an "o") Johnson, 18, is a college wide receiver at West Virginia State University. On Saturday he was home for Thanksgiving break and visiting a friend when he made an illegal u-turn. He was pulled over, and he expected to get a ticket.
What he didn't expect was to be arrested, accused of being someone he wasn't, and then thrown in jail for four days.
But that's what happened when he ran across a Havre de Grace, Md., police officer, who insisted he was Jawan (with an "a") Johnson -- a man wanted by federal authorities as a witness to a burglary case.
“I told them the picture wasn’t me," he told WJZ-TV. No matter.
"They continued and insisted on, in fact, it was me,” he said. Adding to the confusion: Jawon (with an "o") and Jawan (with an "a") share a birthday.
Despite the different spelling he was hauled down to the local jail.
“I was in the cell 23 hours a day,” he told the news station.
"They arrested me and took me back to the station and showed me a picture of who the guy actually was," he added to the Baltimore Sun. "It wasn't me, but they said they still had to hold me until the marshals came and got me."
Eventually (and days later) a family friend who also happens to be a deputy U.S. Marshall picked Johnson up from jail and brought him to a federal court facility in Baltimore. There authorities ran his prints and sent his picture to the feds, who confirmed his story: he wasn't Jawan (with an "a") and wasn't the man they were looking for.
With no reason to hold him, authorities released the college freshman.
"It was the worst experience ever," Juanita Johnson, Jawon's (with an "o") mother told the Sun. "I didn't have any information about what was going on with my child."
“I just felt like he was thrown in shark infested waters,” she added to WJZ.
Jawon (with an "o") seems to be doing okay.
"As long as I'm out, I'm perfectly fine," he told the Sun. "I'm happy to see my family. I just want to enjoy the rest of my vacation at home.
WJZ says he has no criminal record and hopes to be a sportscaster when he's done with college.
As for the police, they're defending themselves to a degree.
"When you have similar photos, name and date of birth ... the stars looked aligned," Jeff Gilpin, a spokesman for the Havre de Grace police, told the Sun. "We honestly thought everything was on the up and up."
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