Johnathan Chavez wants to change his last name. Within the next month, the 22-year-old Pojoaque native says, he will go through legal filings to have it changed to Work, his mom’s maiden name.
Chavez says, “I don’t feel honor in saying my name anymore.”
Chavez and his lawyer, Mark Donatelli, reached a settlement agreement with Santa Fe’s Board of County Commissioners on July 13 in a mistaken-identity case that put Chavez in jail for seven days in May 2006, under allegations of raping a 14-year-old girl. A settlement with the city was reached in April.
The person for whom he was mistaken, Jonathan Chavez Pacheco, pleaded guilty to the charge on March 16, 2007, but then violated his probation and is now back in Santa Fe County jail awaiting a sentencing hearing later this month.
Pacheco’s name is listed in court documents as “Jonathan Pacheco, AKA Jonathan Chavez.” Because he signed his guilty plea as “Jonathan C Pacheco,” SFR is using that name for this article.
With the settlement, the innocent Johnathan Chavez says, “I can put this stuff in the back of my mind.” But Chavez, an aviation maintenance technician, will not feel closure until he changes his name. “I seriously don’t think I can ever get the credibility back,” he tells SFR. “Having the same name as this guy who, in my understanding, is going to continue on this train of destruction for the rest of his life—I don’t want to be associated with anyone or anything like that.”
Neither Donatelli nor Chavez would disclose the dollar amounts of the county settlements. SFR has a pending public record requests for the information. The city settled in April with Chavez for $165,000, according to city records.
Chavez’ odyssey began on Aug. 9, 2005. According to Santa Fe Police Department reports, on that date Jonathan C Pacheco was at a house party on Camino Rancho Siringo in Santa Fe. His 14-year-old victim was asleep in the back of a friend’s car at the time. When she woke up, Pacheco was on top of her. She began hitting him; he ran away. The victim called 911; police showed up and interviewed the kids at the party. They named Pacheco as the assailant. SFPD issued a warrant for his arrest.
Pacheco had a rap sheet already, having spent a night in jail barely a month after his 18th birthday. According to jail records, Pacheco has seven separate arrests and has been charged with disorderly conduct, battery and resisting arrest. On the night of May 5, 2006, he was in jail on a burglary offense.
That same night, Johnathan Chavez, who says he has never met Pacheco, was revving up his motorcycle with some friends at a rally. SFPD officers, responding to a noise complaint, checked everyone’s identification, and when they discovered—mistakenly—that Chavez had a warrant for his arrest, they cuffed him. He and Pacheco were in the same jail at the same time.
Chavez was placed in a special holding cell with other men accused of sex crimes.
In a letter to both the city and county attorneys, as well as First Judicial District Attorney Henry Valdez, Chavez’ lawyer, Donatelli, states that Chavez “was subjected to threats and intimidation tactics by other inmates.”
Chavez repeatedly told jail officials they had the wrong guy, told them he was attending Westwood College in Denver at the time of the rape and that his name and birth date are different from those listed on the arrest warrant.
After a week in the county lockup, Chavez spent 25 days under house arrest.
“It was a perfect storm of reckless incompetence,” Donatelli says. “You got the cops, the DAs, the police department and the jail…if any of them had followed the right steps, none of this would’ve happened. This isn’t CSI. This is basic Criminal Investigation 101.”
Donatelli notes that officers spelled Chavez’ name three different ways in police reports, which added to the confusion. Deputy Police Chief Aric Wheeler declined comment for this article.
But Donatelli adds that the county, which oversees the jail and was therefore held liable in this lawsuit, has been proactive in resolving the case.
“The county has been responding in good faith,” he says. “They recognized there was some liability here [and], as the discussions went, they said, ‘What do you think the damages are?’”
County Attorney Stephen Ross did not return several phone calls seeking comment.
First District Court Judge Stephen Pfeffer, who is scheduled to sentence Pacheco on July 28, would not comment on the particular case, although he notes that it is not the first time he has heard of mistaken identity situations in Santa Fe.
“I know it’s occurred since I’ve been doing this,” Pfeffer, who has been on the bench for eight years, says. “It’s not common. But it happens periodically.”
Lawyer Donatelli says in fact mistaken identity cases come up regularly in northern New Mexico, due to a large number of similar last names.
“[The name] Chavez is similar,” he says. “Martinez is similar. Just go look at a phone book—how many Vigils are there, for God’s sake?”
Soon, Johnathan Chavez will not be among the Chavezes listed in the phone book, or anywhere else for that matter. With his name change and settlements, he says he can finally begin the next phase of his life. Chavez moved to Albuquerque last week where he currently runs a moving business and is looking for another aviation tech gig.
Chavez says he left Santa Fe to pursue other job opportunities—not because of his legal troubles here—though he adds that the case has cast a shadow on his life here.
“For a while there was so much hatred for the police and county, and I thought the whole city of Santa Fe had turned its back on me.”