An Inyo case of mistaken identity

By Deb Murphy

Fresno resident Melissa Neylon was scheduled to do an inspection at the Inyo County Jail for her employer Fire Life Safety Inspection on December 4 and ended up getting a more intimate look at the facility until she posted bail on the 18th.

Inyo Sheriff

Sounds like one of those you’re-not-going-to-believe-this stories? It was, for Neylon, her husband Shawn and mother Nenita Balbin Smith. Here’s what happened:

As part of the standard procedure before her tour, Neylon’s prints were taken by Lifescan. The prints matched up with a Melissa Chapman, wanted in Dearborn County Indiana on a 2004 identity theft charge. Oops.

According to Inyo County Sheriff Bill Lutze, Neylon was detained when the department was alerted to a “possible hit.” Her prints were scanned a second time, the hit was confirmed and the hard cards forwarded to Dearborn law enforcement. Inyo was alerted to the active warrant and Neylon was held until her court appearance December 18.

Back in Fresno, Shawn Neylon sprang into action to prove his wife was not Chapman, had never even been to Indiana much less stolen somebody’s identity. He came up with a time card at his wife’s former employer in the Bay Area, dated and certified by her boss on the day Chapman was stealing identities. He tracked down Chapman’s former husband who confirmed that, yes, his ex-wife was in Indiana committing the crime on the date and time Neylon was in San Francisco. There was also paperwork that Chapman had given birth in 2002, three years after Neylon had her tubes tied following her third child. Shawn Neylon was even aware of a possible death certificate on Chapman.

According to Shawn Neylon, his wife has gone through multiple Lifescans as part of her job as an insurance agent. No connection to an outstanding warrant ever showed up.

The court appearance in Independence was simply to verify that there was probable cause to hand Neylon over to Indiana authorities for extradition. Shawn Neylon had some hope his wife would be released when Judge Brian Lamb started his decision with the statement that a person can’t be in two places at once. Unfortunately for Neylon, the Lifescan and photos of the two women that showed a vague resemblance outweighed the information to the contrary. But, Neylon was released on $50,000 bail with a January 13 re-appearance date, presumably to be taken to Indiana in handcuffs.

The media in Fresno had a two-week field day with the story, even tracking down Chapman’s mother who said her daughter had died two years ago. Dearborn law enforcement’s stance was that Chapman was a master at identity theft and were more than skeptical with anything Shawn Neylon or the Fresno ABC affiliate came up with.

Then, last Tuesday, Dearborn contacted Inyo County Sheriff’s Department and said the hard copy of the prints didn’t match and Neylon won’t be back in Independence, or Indiana for that matter, any time soon.

According to Inyo’s District Attorney Tom Hardy, his staff’s responsibility was simply to present probable cause at the identification hearing. “Dearborn County was basically ‘in charge’ of the proceedings,” he stated via e-mail. Lutze said his department followed the procedures for Lifescan hits. “We did our due diligence,” he said adding that the chances of an erroneous Lifescan were roughly 1 in 100,000. The unanswered question now is what are the chances of an erroneous identification based on Lifesscan in Dearborn County.


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23 Responses to An Inyo case of mistaken identity

  1. sugarmagnolia January 3, 2016 at 9:10 pm #

    Poor woman…I hope she gets paid for her time in Inyo County jail. It’s hard to believe someone can report to do their job and end up in jail for erroneous reasons. Plus she should get another month off with pay.
    I don’t know much about Life scan, but I do know all ‘tests’ include the possibility of a false positive. That’s why I’m against most mandatory testing.

    Not sure if Inyo County administered the test in error or if Lifescan is responsible, but someone needs to take responsibility!

  2. Karen Franson January 4, 2016 at 5:22 am #

    How does this affect the insurance status of the jail? Is the jail uninsurable because of the wrongful jailing?
    Why has this been on TV but not on our local news until now?

  3. Trouble January 4, 2016 at 7:15 am #

    I guess this proves we need a new court house. Or something like that.

  4. Tourbillon January 4, 2016 at 9:31 am #

    D.A. Hardy should answer this question: apart from Dearborn County Indiana, what other out-of-state municipalities do you believe are appropriately allowed to be “in charge” of your office when it comes to those whom you incarcerate?

    Sheriff Lutze: given that your “due diligence” blundered into depriving an innocent woman of two weeks of her life, what changes do you plan to make to that “due diligence”? Or are you satisfied with your “due diligence” procedures as they stand?

    • Trouble January 4, 2016 at 11:38 am #

      Maybe we should have a real grand jury. I’m not sure people in Inyo realize our grand jury doesn’t do criminal cases. We leave everything up to our fearless leaders.

    • Shawn Neylon January 22, 2016 at 1:10 pm #

      Inyo Sheriff DID NOT follow in due diligence. They should have compared Melissa Neylon’s prints with Melissa Chapman’s prints. They did not do that, they only scanned My wife’s prints and compared them with herself. They held her in Jail until the 18th of December. IF they did their job correctly she would have been released in 20 minutes.

      • Warpaint January 22, 2016 at 3:44 pm #

        I’m sorry this happened to your wife and your family.
        Guilty till proven innocent around these parts. That is unacceptable.

        It’s unfortunate how so many citizens in this county are acting like this is no big deal.

      • Karen Rotchstein January 23, 2016 at 5:46 am #

        We have to live with this continued abuse, Shawn. My husband is a disabled veteran and has had to deal with a lot of abuse from the Inyo County law inforcement. A never ending problem.
        I hope you get some justice for this disgrace.
        We would like to apologize for the criminals working our local court system.

  5. Wondering January 4, 2016 at 2:41 pm #

    Not that I know much about this…but my thoughts are that if it came back the opposite, then people would be praising the County. Also since the “scan” came back “positive” isn’t that the error of the machine and not our County employees? Sounds to me like the employees did their job.

    • tourbillon January 4, 2016 at 6:50 pm #

      Your comment is quite valuable, because it reveals a common attitude: depriving an innocent person of her liberty is acceptable if it can be put down to “government employees simply doing their job”. This illustrates how low our expectations of government have sunk.

      • Trouble January 6, 2016 at 5:46 am #

        Tourbillon, good answer. I hope our local legal beagles read that.

    • Trouble January 5, 2016 at 5:17 am #

      We are supposed to be living in the land of the free. I don’t see it.

    • Trouble January 23, 2016 at 10:57 am #

      Wondering, like the judge told the drunk driving truck driver, if anybody should have known better it was you. Same thing goes with people employed with our justice system.

  6. Low-Inyo January 4, 2016 at 7:45 pm #

    Terrible mistake,and the victim should be compensated in some form….but let’s hope some lawyer doesn’t jump in and it ends up costing the Inyo County taxpayers gazillions of dollars to pay in some lawsuit.

  7. Lorijellybean January 5, 2016 at 8:07 am #

    How scary is it when you can show documentation, and other evidence that can be substantiated to prove your identity, but a faulty biometric file can trump that?
    I’m no longer a fan of our ubiquitous e-world. It has some disturbing flaws.

    • Wondering January 5, 2016 at 8:58 am #

      @lorijellybean, boy do I agree…it is scary

    • Bob Loblaw January 6, 2016 at 11:46 am #

      While I agree with what you’ve said, it’s noteworthy that the actual offender was being sought for Identity Theft. Which is to say that she was probably quite adept at acquiring and providing paper documentation. The troubling part of this to me is that it took as long as it did for someone in Law Enforcement (Here or There) to actually compare hard copies of prints. It’s not like they had to be hand carried via Pony Express. Sometimes bad things happen to people who didn’t have them coming.

      • Low-Inyo January 6, 2016 at 5:09 pm #

        Bob Loblaw…..That’s what I was thinking too….why did it take TWO weeks ??? ….mistakes can be made,but in this day and age of (too much) technology,it seems it could’ve been corrected in a day or two max.

  8. Low-Inyo January 5, 2016 at 4:14 pm #

    These type of mistakes are bound to happen….in this world of paper-computer-tracking-and all this e-world-data-everything based around DNA and computer-prints and technology…thank goodness this type of thing doesn’t happen very often,cause if it did,it would open the flood-gates to a LOT of problems with Law Enforcement agencies and our court system.

    • Karen Rotchstein January 6, 2016 at 5:10 am #

      There are problems with our law enforcement and court in Inyo County. Many problems.

  9. Force Ten January 5, 2016 at 8:30 pm #

    It’s ridiculous that that she needs a fingerprint scan to do her job. She’s been cleared by her employer. It’s embarrassing that they have a warrant on a dead person. It’s also amazing to me how govt. can violate our rights and act like it’s no big deal.
    The county deserves to be sued. It’s time to start holding these elected officials accountable for their actions.

  10. CL January 5, 2016 at 8:36 pm #

    Livescan not lifescan fyi

  11. Indy Resident January 5, 2016 at 8:51 pm #

    Low-Inyo… Typical small town thoughts.. Inyo jails average 80 inmates… Los Angeles County averages 22,000 Inmates… I wonder how much we dont hear about in the larger jail systems.. We as a small community can hear a jail cell being opened and closed, or an embezzler shuffling dollar bills. Imagine what the public misses in a large population!!


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