After arresting the wrong woman for a series of thefts targeting elderly victims, investigators say they now have the right suspect in custody.
For days, San Diego police have been looking for a woman who followed at least seven elderly women to their homes as they were leaving shopping centers. The suspect would then talk her way inside the victim’s homes.
Last week, San Diego police officers thought they’d arrested the woman they were looking for, but apparently they were wrong.
Deidria Nicholson, 50, appeared in court Monday and pleaded not guilty to charges of preying on elderly women and burglarizing their homes. Hours later, the district attorney's office dropped charges saying police had arrested the wrong woman. Nicholson was released from the Vista County jail shielding her face from television cameras and refusing to talk to members of the media.
More than 12 hours after her release, Nicholson agreed to discuss her arrest with television news reporters. She said police weren't sure they had the right suspect from the beginning.
“One of them was saying, ‘She don’t really look like the picture’ and the other one was saying ‘Yeah, yeah, but this is her, this is her,” she said outside her La Mesa home. “All along I’ve been telling them I’m innocent, I don’t know what you’re talking about, this is not me, I’ll wait for my lawyer. It was really scary. I’ve never been arrested before.”
Investigators say they now have the right woman in custody in Los Angeles. Cassandra Henry is accused in a nationwide series of thefts targeting elderly women, police said.
Earlier this month, authorities released a surveillance picture of a heavy set African American woman believed to be responsible for the string of burglaries. Days later, after a tip came into police through San Diego Crimestoppers, Nicholson was arrested by police outside her La Mesa apartment.
Lt. Ken Stewart said investigators compared images from the surveillance video to those of Nicholson. "Based on that and other evidence I won’t be able to go into at this time, we believed the right person was arrested," Stewart said.
Monday, officers received information that detectives in the LA County area had arrested a suspect that was wanted in multiple states around the country for similar cases that looked a lot like the woman in the surveillance video, Stewart said.
Officers consulted with prosecutors and decided to drop charges against Nicholson.
“What I’m angry about with the police department in this particular instance is them not doing their homework and then chastising me when we got back to the police station, ‘Well you’ve been polite and you don’t have a record but everybody says it’s you,” she said.
When asked if it was the SDPD’s policy to issue an apology in a case like this, Stewart said, “This investigation isn’t over. We’re not ruling anything out.”
"I’m not sure mistakes did happen," he said, "Again it’s an ongoing investigation and it’s far from over."
Nicholson said her family and friends kept her strong and even found the ability to joke about her jail uniform. "It ain't cute," she said. "And you're wearing someone else's underwear!'