Woman sues police, bank for false arrest after ATM visit

VIDEO: Woman sues police, bank for false arrest after ATM visit

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A North Charleston woman is suing local police and her bank after she says she was wrongly arrested for forgery.

Police initially tied Paulette Lawrence to a case involving an older woman who was scammed at an ATM, but Lawrence and her attorney later realized a discrepancy in ATM time stamps that show she wasn’t even at the ATM on the day the forged deposit occurred.

Picture after picture in the police file shows ATM surveillance images of a young woman with an older woman at a Wells Fargo ATM in North Charleston.

Police affidavits say the 26-year-old suspect tricked a 67-year old woman into depositing bad checks and withdrawing cash before the bank realized the check was fake.

The first one was deposited on January 26th, 2018.

Surveillance images show the suspect returned at least two more times by herself.

One was for $723; another was for $400.

The victim alerted police in February 2018 after the bank caught on and took the money back out of her account.

Wells Fargo investigators provided those surveillance pictures to North Charleston police, according to law enforcement records.

Tucked in the report was a picture of Paulette Lawrence depositing $60 at the same bank. She was there on Jan. 29, 2018.

But it was a different amount, different account and different day, three days after that initial suspicious deposit.

Paulette Lawrence was named a suspect.

“I opened the door and it was North Charleston Police Department,” Lawrence recalled. “One officer had his hand on his gun.”

In August 2018, she was enjoying a day off with her daughter, who was home from college.

“They said they had a warrant for my arrest, handcuffed me and took me out of my home in front of my daughter. At this point- I still didn’t know why,” Lawrence said.

She was taken to jail and waited in holding cell for 36 hours. Lawrence said her five meals were all the same: a partially frozen bologna sandwich and small cup of juice.

“The next morning came around – breakfast? Same thing.," she said."Cold bologna. Lunch came around again. I was still there- cold bologna.”

But it was more than the meal that startled her.

“I was just disgusted," she said."I had to use the restroom in front of people, people sleeping on a bench. The only way I could relieve myself was in front of everybody. It was horrible.”

Lawrence’s attorney, Barbara Strowd said, “The next day she couldn’t go into work, she missed work. She could have lost her job if her boss didn’t know her so well.”

Paulette was finally released after a bond hearing for the forgery charge and immediately called Strowd.

“The first day I spoke with her on the phone, I knew she was telling the truth. You could just tell,” Strowd said.

Paulette says she had no idea what fake checks and forgery from January the police were talking about.

“All I wanted was the truth. For it to be known I did not do this!” she said.

Two months later at a hearing, the solicitor’s office emailed Barbara the evidence in the case.

“Paulette and I are huddled around a broken [cell phone] screen in the court lobby and it took us all of a minute, if that, to find their error,” Strowd said.

The victim’s bank statement showed $723 for the fake check processed into her Wells Fargo account on Jan. 29, the day Paulette was at the ATM.

But it clearly said the deposit happened on Jan. 26.

“Because the ATM doesn’t automatically credit the amount to your account, the bank identified Paulette as being at the ATM at the time the computer showed the deposit being made. So they were a full three days off, and no one checked to make sure they had the right day,” Strowd said.

She said the solicitor immediately dropped the charges against Lawrence after they pointed out the time discrepancy.

Police had also arrested a woman named Tanisha Simmons and charged her with multiple crimes, including three counts of forgery in this case.

Her charges are still pending.

“It just makes you wonder- who else has this happened to?” Lawrence questioned.

“You’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty; she was not. We had to prove she was innocent. And we haven’t heard a thing from anyone since,” said Strowd.

They are now suing Wells Fargo and NCPD. Neither entity could comment on the situation because of the pending lawsuit.

Paulette recently received a letter detailing how to expunge her record; it will cost $250 or the arrest will stay on her record despite the dismissal.

“It’s not going to go away. It’s still there. The trauma is still there,” Lawrence said. “If it can happen to me- it can happen to you.”

Copyright 2019 WCSC. All rights reserved.