In the Dark

She was freed after a false arrest. But the fingerpointing continues.

For the past three years, Sarah Kleman's workday as a paralegal downtown begins at 4 p.m. and sometimes doesn't end until sunrise. But those late shifts have helped the single mother pay for college for her two daughters. Her eldest child received her education degree from the University of Texas last month. The youngest went from Lamar High School to Georgia State University, where she is a junior.

But Kleman's daughters don't want their mom working nights anymore -- not after what's happened to her.

On February 25 around 2:30 a.m., Houston police officer Daniel Matthews pulled Kleman over on her way home from work, just 50 feet away from her town house in a quiet residential area near Greenway Plaza.

The city and county wound up placing the blame on 
each other.
Al Cameron
The city and county wound up placing the blame on each other.

Matthews ticketed her for a cracked taillight on her 1998 Nissan Altima. Then he ran a check on her license, and she waited for the results. A crowd of neighbors -- as well as Kleman's oldest daughter, who was back at home as a student teacher -- gathered near the flashing lights as Matthews spoke with law enforcement on the radio.

An hour and a half after being stopped, Matthews took Kleman into custody. Her daughter, who had called her little sister in Georgia, said, "Oh, my God, Mom's being arrested."

The officer told Kleman she had two warrants out for her arrest, one in the county's Precinct 6 and one in Precinct 7. "That's impossible," Kleman told him. "You've got the wrong person."

"He said he'd gotten no response from Precinct 7," says Kleman, "but that Precinct 6 had confirmed the warrant."

The only thing Kleman could think of were two warrants for hot checks she'd paid off in 1992, during a difficult financial period following her divorce. But she'd received a speeding ticket a few years later and there were no arrest warrants appearing on her record then. She says Matthews wasn't sure what the warrants were for. He told Kleman he'd seen only one false arrest in his 20 years on the force.

"You're seeing another one right now," said Kleman.

Soon, however, all Kleman saw was about 50 other prisoners inside a holding cell at the city's Mykawa Jail. She asked again why she'd been jailed. No one could tell her.

Kleman tried to use a jail phone but says a female officer told her she couldn't make a call until her name appeared on one of the lists that were periodically taped to a Plexiglas window there.

After several hours her name still never appeared on any list. Kleman protested that she hadn't even been read her rights. Kleman says another guard just laughed at her and later told her, "You're being transferred to Precinct 6 and you're going to get your ass kicked over there."

Around noon, after a few hours of sleep with a blanket on a concrete floor, Kleman was handed her jewelry and told to walk through a door where she'd be transferred to Precinct 6 in central Harris County.

That door led only to the jail lobby. She resisted the urge to run outside and instead asked the desk officer what she was supposed to do.

"Go home," Kleman says she was told.

"But what was I in here for?"

"Just go home," the officer said.

Instead, she went to the Precinct 6 offices to find out the reason for her arrest. Workers there told Kleman they didn't know what she was talking about, that there were no charges against her. Later, the deputy constable who had supposedly confirmed the warrant denied authorizing it. "He told me, 'It was a quiet night, no arrests,' " says Kleman.

Then it was on to Precinct 7. Constable Michael Butler told her they'd had a warrant but it was a mistake and was recalled -- nobody from his precinct had authorized her arrest.

With the county denying responsibility, Kleman returned to the city for explanations. HPD spokesperson Robert Hurst concedes that there was "some confusion" but says the county warrants stemmed from the hot checks -- the ones she'd paid off 12 years earlier. Hurst says Kleman's situation is rare and that he's never dealt with one like it.

Butler had told Kleman of his concerns about "communications between the precincts and police" and urged her to file a complaint with HPD's Internal Affairs Division, she says. Kleman did -- and the confusion only escalated.

On the day after her arrest, Kleman hand-delivered a typed complaint to HPD Internal Affairs Sergeant J.R. Gause. As Gause researched the arrest, Kleman says, she first told her there was no record of it, then said the warrant came from Precinct 7. Kleman explained what Butler himself had told her only hours earlier. Gause then called Precinct 7 and got in an argument with a precinct worker who hung up on the HPD officer. Gause called back to demand a supervisor, and Kleman says, she was soon witnessing a telephone fight between the two agencies over differing information on their computer screens.

When Kleman tried to sneak a peek at Gause's screen, the officer got mad and told her to sit back down. Then Kleman says Gause told her she couldn't accept the written complaint unless Kleman deleted the allegation that she hadn't been read her rights. She says Gause told her she'd been watching too many cop shows on TV.

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