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State drops charges in case involving Lee County teen wrongfully accused

Posted at 11:05 PM, Apr 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-06 23:16:21-04

LEE COUNTY, Fla., - A Lee County teen who claimed she was wrongfully arrested is now free of four felony charges. 

Investigators accused Ja’kee Leaphart of stealing credit cards from a store in Coconut Point Mall and spending more than a thousand dollars at a nearby Target and Best Buy store back in January.

“This messed up my whole life,” said Ja’kee Leaphart. “I told them that wasn’t me.”

Nevertheless, Leaphart was arrested in February after a former school resource officer and assistant principal at East Lee County High School where Leaphart attended, both identified her as one of two women caught in the act on surveillance video.

Leaphart claims she told deputies who arrested her she was at work at the time the crimes happened.

However, the State Attorney’s Office says they didn’t have that information when she was initially arrested.

“There was no reference to an alibi. Neither the detective or the defense attorney had that information. There was also no alibi mentioned in the defendant’s statement to the detective,” said Samantha Syoen, a spokesperson with the State Attorney’s Office. “As soon as we, the State Attorney’s Office, learned there may be an alibi we investigated the claim. Through our investigation, we received information that led us to drop the charge.”

Now with four felonies on her record, attorney Scot Goldberg believes the damage has been done and it will likely take months to get the charges expunged from her record.

“You can’t take back the arrest. In this investigation, something was missed and the result of it is this young girl, 19 years old, never been in trouble, never had a ticket for her whole life is now marked for her life,” Goldberg said. “All they had to do was talk to her and ask her what the date was and she could have given them the name of her manager at work which would have showed that she was working that day and couldn’t have done it.”

“They owe Ms. Leaphart an apology,” said James Muwakill, Lee County NAACP President. Muwakill says the detectives who handled her case also need to be disciplined. “Those detectives need to be fired. Those detectives need to be terminated.”

Both the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and the Lee County School District declined to comment Friday regarding how Leaphart was mistaken for somebody else. It’s unclear if the Sheriff’s Office is still looking for the actual suspects in this case.

Leaphart is now considering filing a lawsuit.