After a small fender-bender, Anna Mae Leach filed a police report on the accident, just to be safe. That call landed her a week in jail for a completely different offense — late video rentals.
Leach was held in jail for a week, away from her 6-year-old daughter. She spent Thanksgiving Day in jail, while waiting to find out what she did wrong, she said.
Leach was jailed on an outstanding arrest warrant for "theft of leased property," but the constable could not tell her what property she was accused of stealing.
A week after her release, she discovered her alleged crime: failure to return videos — 12 years ago.
"I was out a week and I had gone downtown to be arraigned. That's when we found out what it was, rented videotapes from 1989," Leach said on Good Morning America.
After a minor car accident, two days before Thanksgiving, she called police in Castle Shannon, a small town outside of Pittsburgh, where she lives with her daughter. The report drew the attention of Allegheny County constables, who matched her name with an outstanding warrant.
County constables in Pennsylvania are independent contractors who are vested with the authority to open and close polls and maintain the peace. They can also make extra money by executing civil and criminal arrest warrants, for which they receive fees.
Two constables picked up Leach while she was at work as an attendant in an all night gas station shop. When they took her to Allegheny County Jail, Leach didn't call a lawyer. She said the constables told her she would be arraigned and released within hours. But because of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, no judges were available to hear her case. When she realized she wasn't getting out that night, she was in a state of shock, she said.
Freed at Last
After seven days in jail, Leach was granted a hearing, and released from jail on her own recognizance. When she showed up for her court case a week later, she finally found out that the "theft of leased property" charges stemmed from the rental in 1989 of three videotapes that were not returned to West Coast Video in Bloomfield, Pa., where she grew up.
Leach's attorney, J. Kevin Keyho, said he and Leach angry at the constables who jailed her the night before a holiday. "It was the Thanksgiving Day weekend, and this is where we're most upset with the behavior of the constables — they told her she would be out in a few hours, knowing it was a bench warrant and a judge had to sign off on getting her out," Leach said on Good Morning America.
Leach maintains that she could not have been guilty of the charges, in any case, because she did not live in Bloomfield at the time the tapes were rented. She and her future husband had moved to Franklin, Pa. the previous year. In 1996, they moved to Castle Shannon because her husband, who has since died, was being treated for cancer at a Pittsburgh hospital.
The charges against Leach were dropped. Keyho said Leach deserves compensation for the seven days she spent in jail. He is working on identifying all of the parties who should be held responsible, he said.
Leach said she is still very angry about the seven days she spent in jail because she can never get them back.