Coconut Creek

Internal Documents Show Multiple Mistakes by Law Enforcement in Wrong Arrest

NBC 6 investigation into the arrest of a Coconut Creek man who spent almost 6 days in jail for a crime he didn't commit shows multiple layers of mistakes

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NBC 6 is continuing to investigate the wrongful arrest of a Coconut Creek man, Leonardo Silva Oliveira, who spent almost six days behind bars when he was mistaken for a wanted felon with the same name.

Newly released internal documents from the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office show the department started its own investigation that reveals multiple layers of missteps by different law enforcement agencies. But the source of the issue, according to PBSO, was that some wrong information was put into an arrest warrant ultimately leading to the wrong Oliveira being arrested.

On Jan. 20, Oliveira walked out of work at a Deerfield Beach steakhouse. Police stopped him and told him to put his hands behind his back and that he was wanted on a warrant for a probation violation out of Palm Beach County. He told NBC 6 he kept telling the officer arresting him that they had the wrong man and that he had never been arrested.

The documents provided by the PBSO lay out how the wrong Leonardo Silva Oliveira, 26, was arrested from the sheriff’s office point of view. It turned out the man they were looking for had the same name and their date of birth was just days apart. Also, the wanted man had tattoos on both arms but the Oliveira who was arrested does not have any.

Leonardo Silva Oliveira, left, was wrongly arrested Jan. 20, 2022. Police were looking for the man on the right, also named Leonardo Silva Oliveira.

PBSO did not identify the detective who wrote the report but in it he wrote he was assigned by a sergeant to the case Jan. 18 and began attempting to locate and apprehend a Leonardo Silva Oliveira the next day by retrieving documents through the Softcode Program which he wrote contained the warrant and other documents compiled by a PBSO warrant specialist.  

In the document, the detective said they followed an “investigative checklist” which included reviewing the “DAVID” system (Driver and Vehicle Information Database) which had a driver’s license number, address, date of birth and social security number among other identifying items. The detective stated that the information in the DAVID system matched information in the Softcode and Palms System (databases of information used by law enforcement across Florida).

The detective searching for Oliveira said when the “most likely place Oliveira was staying” came up in Coconut Creek and out of Palm Beach County’s jurisdiction, he contacted the Coconut Creek Police Department to let them know they had someone wanted on a warrant in their area. Later that day, he wrote that a Coconut Creek sergeant said he located Oliveira but that the date of birth did not match the information he was provided. He also said the picture on the warrant was “not exact to the guy he had pulled over.” The PBSO deputy wrote in the report that he recommended that Coconut Creek use the Rapid ID (fingerprint scanner), but the Coconut Creek Sergeant declined, saying it was unreliable.  

A case of mistaken identity landed a Coconut Creek man in jail for almost a week before law enforcement realized they had the wrong guy. NBC 6's Heather Walker reports


In the report, the PBSO detective said the Coconut Creek sergeant said the guy they had detained did not have tattoos, but also mentioned that they could have been removed since the photographs were taken. The report says at that point the PBSO deputy said it was up to the Coconut Creek to determine if it was the right guy and that Coconut Creek sergeant said he "felt comfortable" moving forward with the arrest since everything else matched and that it would get "sorted out at the jail,” which we now know didn’t happen for at least six days.  

The PBSO report points the finger at Coconut Creek Police, saying it was their department’s responsibility to determine if it's the right person and if the arrest warrant should be executed.  

The report goes on to say that the same day that the wrong Oliveira’s lawyer got him released, PBSO was contacted by Coconut Creek. The PBSO detective wrote in the report that they received a phone call from the arresting sergeant from Coconut Creek and that a captain and legal advisor for the police department were also on the call to inform PBSO that they arrested the wrong guy and he had since been released. The document says it was Coconut Creek's responsibility to correctly ID and arrest the suspect.

A Coconut Creek Police spokesperson told NBC 6 that they were aware of the PBSO report. They had previously provided a report of the arrest that night, but declined to provide answers about PBSO's findings.

Then, according to the documents, PBSO was asked to check the documents it provided to ID the guy and determine where and if a mistake was made. Originally Boca Raton’s case, PBSO says it asked for the arrest sheets from Boca Raton and quickly determined that none of the arrest sheets had the same Florida driver’s license as the warrant. He wrote that some of the information matched the wrong Oliveira including a handwritten note on an arrest report from Boca Raton that had the same date of birth, social security number and address as the wrongly arrested Oliveira.

The PBSO investigator then wrote he reached out to the Florida Department of Corrections to speak to the probation officer who wrote the violation but she was unavailable. Instead he wrote that he spoke to a supervisor who looked into it and learned that the previous probation officer made a notation on a copy of the cover sheet of the “DAVID” report stating “NOT HIM.”  

The supervisor from the Department of Corrections later emailed the PBSO warrants supervisor that an incorrect driver’s license/identification number was entered into the warrant. The email read, “I cannot tell why this number was entered in our system. We will remove it immediately from our system and also submit a corrective warrant” without the wrong identifying information.

The PBSO deputy who investigated and wrote the internal document that was released to the media summed up what happened saying that the wrong information was first submitted by the Department of Corrections to the court system.

The report went on saying “to safeguard the alleged innocent subject” that the incorrect information was removed from law enforcement databases by the Department of Corrections and that Boca Raton needs to amend a 2018 arrest report that put the wrong Oliveira’s information in it.

NBC 6 reached out to Boca Raton Police to find out if those changes were made. They told us they started an internal investigation and would not comment on an active investigation.

Editor's Note (Feb. 7, 2022) - Coconut Creek Police reached out to NBC 6 after the story was published and asked for a clarification of their response.

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