To Catch a Criminal: Alias Names Cause Clogs in Courts

The criminal justice system has inherent flaws that can costs taxpayer money and potentially put an innocent person behind bars.

On August 19, 2010, 4 inmates Escaped from the Wichita County Jail Annex. During the search for the inmates, law enforcement became confused as to who they were looking for. The Sheriff's Office released many names for the same inmate, complicating the search and capture of the escapees.

However, according to Wichita County Sheriff David Duke, alias names are frequently used among inmates.

"Criminals want to remain anonymous; they don't want to be known who they are," said Duke.

Patti Flores, the Wichita County District Clerk, knows all too well about the problems of the name game. "You change your name and you no longer go by your previous name, it could cause some confusion, some problems," said Flores.

Especially if you have a criminal record. Many inmates booked into the Wichita County jail system go by more than just their birth name. For instance, Gabriel Lee Corona, is also know by his street name, Rage. Close friends and even work associates never knew his true identity.

Now, all paperwork associated with Rage details his birth name and street name. The name game can be even more complex. One of the inmates who Escaped from Annex, Devontae Combs, has at least 8 different aliases.

To see the breakdown of the many names of Devontae Combs, click here.

When Combs was on the run, law enforcement became confused as to who they were looking for, costing time and tax payer dollars.

Determining someone's true identity can also clog the already congested court system.

Mitizi Brotherton, the Court Administrator, is in charge of creating and maintaining docket lists for felony cases in Wichita County. All lawyers and judges reference her paperwork in their briefings. For the court administrator's office, a correct name is crucial.

"We try to figure out all the different ways to spell it. We ask if they have ever had a hyphenated name or if they've been married multiple times. Is there any other way that they could have been booked into the jail? Cause that's the first place we usually go and look for. But we would try and spell it three or four different ways. Or if it is a junior there's certain ways to look it up. But we just don't stop with just the name that they are giving us," said Brotherton.

The District Clerk's office also handles stacks of paperwork with personal information. All felony indictments as well as many civil suits are sorted and filed through this office. Patti Flores, Wichita County's District Clerk, has seen multiple indictments for the same person under different names.

"We have seen that before," said Flores. "And it's usually because they use their original name for one arrest and then the next time they use their alias."

There is a detailed process to ensure all court offices are using the same name for the same person on all paperwork. When the District Attorney presents a case to the grand jury, the name on the case will appear on an indictment. The indictment will be stored in the District Clerk's office and passed along to the court administrator who provides it to the judges.

"It's how their indictment is returned from the grand jury to the district clerk's office," explained Brotherton, "Whatever that case that he or she is charged with and the spelling of that name, that's what would carry with him."

But sometimes, the name can be wrong.

"If it comes up, it gives one name on the street and we get to jail and we figure out that his real name is another name. That name that he first gave is now the alias name. So both names have to go through the paperwork," said Duke.

Which means the entire process has to be repeated. The District Attorney's Office would dismiss the case only to re-file the indictment with the District Clerk, who would have to change all previous records and notify all agencies. Flores says the time consuming changes clog the courts, costs tax payers money, and wastes time.

"If it was corrected to begin with," explained Flores, "they wouldn't have to dismiss or they wouldn't have to do the extra paperwork of amending it."

To ensure the extra steps aren't made, multiple offices at the Wichita County Courthouse cross reference all pertinent information and share their records. However, even with all the precautions, an alias name can slip through the cracks. Potentially, the wrong person can be charged with another's crime.

For example, when Devontae Combs Escaped from Annex, law enforcement became confused as to who they were looking for. In fact, they publicized that one of his aliases, Deontae Huntley was on the run. However, when the real Deontae Huntley, who matched the description of Combs, turned himself in, it was determined everyone was looking for the wrong person.

Although it's rare, attorneys and other court officials say mistaken identity can happen. But the Law enforcement arm of justice uses technology and other investigation techniques to make sure the right person is charged with the right crime.

"If they do use a fake name, there are ways we can catch exactly who they are," said the Sheriff. "For instance, we have a Life Scan fingerprint system here at the county, at the county jail, where you can put somebody who may come up with an alias name and run a fingerprint through it and it will show up as who it really is."

All fingerprints in the Life Scan system are inputted into a national database. If someone had their prints taken, a name and all known aliases will be forever attached to those specific fingerprints. Even that isn't fool-proof. The fingerprint data base works well if a person's fingerprints are already in the system. However, if someone has never had their fingerprints taken, a criminal's real name could potentially not be used.

To explain, if a person gets booked into jail with no identification, that person can use any name instead of their own. When that person's fingerprints are put into the Life Scan system, Deputies would attach the alias name to their prints. Sheriff Duke said problems come with a real person's name is attached with someone else's prints.

"They have the warrants come out for them, when it's actually the second person. And yeah, it can follow you around for the rest of your life. And it's real important that people understand that."

Once the prints are in the Life Scan system, they will be forever linked to whatever name given. The Sheriff explained that's an inherent flaw to the system that can't be fixed.

"One of the problems we have though is you have some people who may use an alias who have never been to jail. So you can't tie that fingerprint to one that's already in Life Scan or in the fingerprint database. In that case you really are going off what they tell you. So sometimes the police officer has to dig a little deeper to find out who the person is," said Sheriff Duke.

However, using an alias isn't necessarily a crime.

"A lot of people, who commit crimes, will lie to the officers about who they are," detailed Duke. "Of course they will lie about everything else that they've done. You can catch them with a smoking gun in their hand and they are going to lie about it. But that's just part of what they do."

However, if a person uses hard evidence, such as an id or social security card, to attempt to prove an alias, that person could be charged with felony identity theft.

Once a birth name is realized, all the alias names, along with fingerprints and other identifying information is put into a computer system with Sheriff's office. The District Attorney, District Clerk, and Court Administrator then refer to the Sheriff's system to cross reference and match their cases.

"So as far as the justice system, that's the right person. He may have 14 different names, and the one that he came to jail with is different than what his actual real one is, it all ties together at the final conviction," said Sheriff Duke.

All those steps work together so when someone has their day in court, law enforcement hopefully the right person is charged with the right crime.

Newschannel 6 has followed the latest on the Escape from Annex. See the punishment for the self proclaimed "mastermind" of the escape as well as the fate of one of the inmates.

To see all of the exclusive coverage of the Escape from Annex, click here.

Mary Moloney, Newschannel 6