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Michael Ainsworth's life vexed by another Michael Ainsworth

Michael Lee Ainsworth, 48, says his life was ruined by the 2007 arrest and injuries in Tampa.

ATOYIA DEANS | Times

Michael Lee Ainsworth, 48, says his life was ruined by the 2007 arrest and injuries in Tampa.

TEMPLE TERRACE — One night in May 2007, Michael Lee Ainsworth argued with a police officer and wound up injured.

But behind the encounter was another fateful day nearly 46 years earlier.

On Feb. 23, 1961, two Michael Ainsworths were born: Michael Lee, born to Richard and Louise Ainsworth at Manchester Memorial Hospital in Connecticut; and Michael Ray, whose early roots are unclear.

Both men wound up living in the Tampa Bay area.

Michael Lee Ainsworth, 48, became a mortgage broker, married with three kids, two dogs and a Temple Terrace house with beige carpeting.

Michael Ray Ainsworth, 48, got a tattoo of the grim reaper, acquired a minor arrest record and has eluded authorities for more than a decade.

The warrant he left behind dogged Michael Lee Ainsworth, tripping him up over and over, until the broker's life fell in ruins, he says. The details are part of a lawsuit he filed against a Tampa police officer and the city earlier this month.

Ainsworth never thought twice about his name until March 2002 when he surprised his wife by taking her to see the Goo Goo Dolls in Daytona Beach.

They rented a convertible and relaxed before the show at a hotel lounge. As the concert approached, Cheryl Ainsworth left to get seats and Michael Ainsworth went to the bathroom.

The waiter thought they skipped out on the bill. When a security guard saw Ainsworth coming out of the bathroom, the guard detained him in a back room and called police.

That led to the discovery of a Pinellas County sheriff's warrant for an open alcohol container violation in 1992.

"This has got to be a joke," Ainsworth recalls saying.

His name had never appeared in state arrest records before. Prior to 2002, he said, he had been stopped just once: for illegally changing lanes on the Howard Frankland Bridge.

But the other man, Michael Ray Ainsworth, had been arrested at least three times in 1991 and 1992 in Clearwater and St. Petersburg on charges of an open container violation, disorderly conduct and probation violation.

Daytona Beach police put Michael Lee Ainsworth in a patrol wagon and took him to a holding cell with spring break drunks. Hours later, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office sent over fingerprint records, clearing him.

Afterward, he went straight to the Sheriff's Office and got a letter on department letterhead:

"To whom it may concern: This is to certify that a comparison of fingerprints has been made and the above listed individual is NOT the individual arrested by this agency in the name of Michael Ray Ainsworth."

Ainsworth carried it around like a "get out of jail" card. He put a copy in his briefcase and another in his glove box.

He reached for it often.

After that first arrest, Ainsworth was thrown in jail twice and stopped or detained 12 times, sometimes after a routine check of his license. He's been flagged by customs officials at the airport and questioned by police while driving home his grandmother.

Ainsworth said he grew paranoid of flashing lights and sirens.

He admits that years of frustration had built up on May 20, 2007, when an officer thought he was speeding and stopped him on Busch Boulevard.

This time, Ainsworth didn't have the letter.

He was driving a rental car because his car — and a copy of the letter — were in the shop.

He felt vulnerable as he pulled into a Burger King, his 8-year-old daughter alongside him.

Tampa police Officer Kenny Norris asked for his license and registration and discovered the warrant. He asked Ainsworth to get out of the car. That's according to both Ainsworth and the police report.

Ainsworth told the officer he had the wrong man. He called his wife and tried unsuccessfully to call his attorney.

He asked to be fingerprinted. Norris again ordered him out.

Accounts differ slightly over what happened next.

Ainsworth says that when he opened the door, the officer pulled him out of the vehicle and flipped him onto the asphalt.

In his report, Norris said Ainsworth came out on his own, snatched his right hand away while being handcuffed, clenched his fist, took an "aggressive posture" and was taken down.

A jail booking photo shows a bruise over Ainsworth's left eye and scrapes around it.

Norris said Ainsworth made belligerent statements and smelled of alcohol.

A cool, half-full Michelob Light was found in a car cup holder, the police report said.

Ainsworth said the beer was left by his wife after a concert tailgate party the night before.

He was charged with resisting arrest without violence and an open container violation — the same charge that had haunted him all these years.

Months later, prosecutors dropped everything. But Ainsworth says the incident left him with a separated collarbone, crushed shoulder, fractured vertebrae, degenerative nerve damage, numb legs and hands, anxiety, high blood pressure, sleep apnea and depression.

He said he can't work. Banks are foreclosing on his home, and his family relies on food stamps and Medicaid. Medical bills have piled up. The church bulletin includes a permanent prayer request for the Ainsworths.

"One miserable day has turned our lives upside down," Cheryl Ainsworth, 42, said.

Tampa police declined to comment on the lawsuit, which seeks more than $15,000 in damages.

Ainsworth started a Web site, www.itsnotmywarrant.info, to collect stories of mistaken identity, hoping to lobby for laws that require officers to check fingerprints when serving warrants.

Over the years, the Ainsworths have looked for Michael Ray Ainsworth, searching for his name on the Internet, flipping through phone books. The St. Petersburg Times was unable to locate him, though records indicate that he recently lived in California.

There's no longer a warrant against him. In 2008, Clearwater police deactivated it after a television reporter inquired about Ainsworth's identity troubles.

This week, Pinellas County sheriff's spokeswoman Cecilia Barreda could find no trace of trouble for either Ainsworth.

"Nobody comes up with that name at all," she said.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

Michael Ainsworth's life vexed by another Michael Ainsworth 01/16/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 16, 2010 11:03pm]

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