by: Amanda Warford Updated:
A simple mistake on your driver’s license, and it could severely change your life, costing you friends, family and even a job.That mistake cost a local man his reputation even within his own family.
Andrew Stokes Flaherty got a new identification card in 2012. But the legally blind 48-year-old couldn't see what was printed in the corner.
Six months later, as he pulled into NAS JAX, the numbers 943.0435 changed Flaherty's life forever.
“He had tried to get on the naval base with his brother and they almost arrested him, were very, very upset with him and said some choice things because here was a sexual offender trying to get on the naval base,” said John Philips, Flaherty’s attorney.
Phillips says Andrew Flaherty was caught off-guard.
“He said, ‘Wait, wait, wait, no I'm not,'” Phillips said. “It was embarrassing. His own brother even second-guessed him -- 'Hey, what are you not telling me?'”
But Flaherty was telling the truth. He'd been incorrectly labeled a sex offender by an employee who worked at the tax collector's office on Blanding Boulevard.
“Simply put, there's a drop-down menu and she clicked the wrong button,” Phillips said.
It’s a simple mistake that Action News found has repeated time and time again across Florida.
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“I put it in my wallet and I left,” said Tammy Lemasters, a victim of incorrect labeling.
In May, Lemasters went weeks before noticing she'd been labeled a sexual predator on her new license.
Reporters followed the Lake County mother, who has no criminal record, back to the office to confront the manager.
But Phillips, who also represents Lemasters, says even though the mistake was corrected, the label will live with her forever.
“In that court record it will always say, Tammy Lemasters, sexual predator,” Phillips said.
The Duval County tax collector issues licenses and ID cards on behalf of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
But for years, the state's software listed sex offender and predator right alongside other more often used selections, like insulin dependent and organ donor.
“It was easy to click the wrong box,” said Sherry Hall, the chief administrator of the Duval County Tax Collectors Office.
Hall said her staff was devastated to learn of their mistake.
“Michael Corrigan (tax collector) immediately called the state and demanded some safeguards be put into place,” Hall said.
In May, a new version of that software was rolled out. Now, multiple safeguards are in place to double-check a sex offender or predator designation.
But Andrew Flaherty didn't live to see this change. He sued the tax collector, but died last year still waiting for an apology.
In June, the city settled the case and paid his estate $20,000.