EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 10, 2012

Wrong photo, wrecked life

Woman talks about life after bank, police release wrong surveillance photo

By Mike LaBella mlabella@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — HAVERHILL — She’s a single mom who works hard to support two loving sons, is studying to earn her GED and is determined to become a paralegal. For 23-year-old Ginesis Gil, things were looking up. Then it all seemed to come crashing down in lightning shutter speed.

Three weeks ago, police released a bank surveillance photo of a woman with a “Believe” tattoo on her chest who appears to be making a withdrawal from an ATM using a stolen debit card. It was Gil in the photo, but as it turns out, she wasn’t the one police were looking for.

A bank error resulted in police getting the wrong photo from the wrong ATM, which was then released to the media. Last week, police cleared Gil of any wrongdoing after she proved the withdrawal she had made at an ATM was from her own account. Police are now looking for a male suspect in the case.

Gil said the mistake threw her life into immediate turmoil.

“It was horrible,” said Gil. “I couldn’t take my children Trick-or-Treating and when I went to Market Basket to pick up a few things, people were staring at me. And when I brought my children to the bus stop, other moms were talking about me.”

Everywhere she went people pointed and stared, she said. She heard people saying things like “Isn’t that the woman who police are looking for?” Gil says many recognized her from the photo because of the tattoo of the word “Believe” that she has on the right upper chest area. She said the tattoo honors several members of her family who are cancer survivors. The tattoo could clearly be seen in the photo that police released.

She tried to hide what was happening from her two young sons, but they eventually found out.

“Are you going to jail Mommy?” one of them asked, Gil said.

Police have released a new photo of a person they believe used a stolen debit card to make a withdrawal from a Bank of America ATM located on Plaistow Road. Police are asking the public’s help in identifying the person in the photo.

“It was an unfortunate mistake and we acknowledge that as a result of the error she had her picture put in the paper,” Deputy police Chief Donald Thompson said about Gil.

Bank of America spokesman T.J. Crawford referred questions about the investigation to police.

“As a general rule we don’t comment on law enforcement matters,” Crawford said.

Gil’s lawyer, Thomas Torrisi of Methuen, said the release of Gil’s photo has been the source of tremendous embarrassment and hardship to her and to her family.

“She wants nothing more than to reestablish her otherwise unblemished reputation in the community,” Torrisi said.

Police said that on the afternoon of Oct. 15, a woman reported her pocketbook was missing from her car, which was parked outside Latitudes Sports Club, 3 Ferry St., Bradford. Police released the photo in hopes of identifying the suspect who used the stolen card to withdraw $502 from an ATM in Methuen, and $502 from an ATM in Haverhill.

Gil’s photo, which appeared in The Eagle-Tribune on Oct. 26, resulted in an almost immediate response from the public. Police said they received numerous calls from people who identified the woman in the photo as Gil. She was even identified by people who saw her Facebook page, where her tattoo can be easily seen.

The ordeal that consumed her days and sleepless nights began around midnight that Friday. Gil was asleep in her bedroom when her phone rang. A friend called to say her photo was online and to go see for herself.

“I woke up my mom and my brother and we all went on our iPhones and saw it,” Gil said. “I said to myself, if this is a joke, it isn’t funny.”

Gil called police and was told to drop by the station that Friday morning to speak with Detective Carl Rogers, who was investigating the theft. Gil said Rogers called her that day and told her they will need to meet at some point.

“I kept saying I don’t know what happened and that I don’t want to go to jail for something I didn’t do,” Gil said.

Throughout that first day, Gil was bombarded with Facebook messages from friends asking her what happened and did she really do it. And everywhere she went, people whispered and pointed at her.

“We were shopping at Market Basket and people were pointing and talking. I just had to leave,” Gil said. “They were saying things like ‘that’s the woman in the newspaper’ and ‘she did it.’”

Gil’s mother, Elizabeth Robles, said her daughter was so uncomfortable at the bus stop that Friday morning that she picked up her grandchildren in the afternoon.

“I told her to keep her head up as I know you are innocent,” Elizabeth Robles said about her daughter.

Gil’s sister, Natasha Gil, did her best to console her sister. “She called me crying every day,” Natasha Gil said. “I knew she didn’t do it, but it was very hard.”

A few days after her photo was released, Gil’s father put her in touch with Torrisi, at the recommendation of a friend. Torrisi told Gil to gather bank documents showing she’d made a legitimate withdrawal from her account.

“I went through a week of hell and I wouldn’t wish this on my worse enemy,” Gil said.

Gil said she and her lawyer met with Detective Carl Rogers Nov. 1 and showed him the bank documents. Torrisi said it wasn’t until the following day that police contacted him to say Gil was cleared.

Torrisi said Rogers acted quickly and professionally in following up on the evidence provided by Gil, and by contacting him to say she was not a suspect in this investigation.

“Detective Rogers allowed both myself and my client to view the entire video sequence from the bank at the station, and without jeopardizing the ongoing investigation, I can say that it is understandable why the police wished to inquire of Ms. Gil, as she was present using her own bank card making a withdrawal from her own account at or near the time in question,” Torrisi said.

Gil said that after being cleared by police, she was elated and wanted everyone to know that it wasn’t her. But her lawyer advised her to wait so as not to jeopardize the police investigation. Gil said she told her family, but said little to friends other than the situation was about to be resolved and that they’d know soon.

“It felt good to have my name cleared, but still my picture is online and it won’t come off, although my name wasn’t attached to it,” she said.

Torrisi said he isn’t trying to place blame on anyone but hopes more caution will be used by police in the future.

“As an effective took as this might be (referring to releasing photos of suspects), it has to be approached in an investigative fashion and not an accusatory fashion,” Torrisi said. “The procedure in this case had such negative consequences that I hope all police departments will be more cautious in using that tool without invading an innocent person’s life.”

Police said that on the afternoon of Oct. 15, an Amesbury woman reported her pocketbook was missing from her car, which was parked outside Latitudes Sports Club, 3 Ferry St., Bradford. The woman told police she’d placed her pocketbook on the floor behind the passenger seat, covered it with a sweatshirt then went inside the gym. She said she placed her car keys in a basket by the front lobby, which is near the front door to the gym.

After finishing at the gym at 5:30 p.m., she got her keys and drove back to her home in Amesbury, where she discovered her pocketbook containing her driver’s license, $100 cash and her “Sovereign” debit card was missing. After contacting her bank, she was told a $502 withdrawal was made at a Sovereign Bank in Methuen, and $502 was withdrawn from a Bank of America ATM in Haverhill. The woman subsequently cancelled her debit card, the report said.