Family outraged after police arrest woman with Down syndrome: 'They were supposed to help find her'

Elise Solé
Melissa Wood, who has Down syndrome, was arrested by Kentucky police officers on a 2011 warrant. Her family says Melissa's identity was stolen. (Screenshot: WKYT)
Melissa Wood, who has Down syndrome, was arrested by Kentucky police officers on a 2011 warrant. Her family says Melissa's identity was stolen. (Screenshot: WKYT)

A missing woman with Down syndrome was arrested for theft — now her outraged family contends the police have the wrong person.

On April 25th, the family of 42-year-old Melissa Wood, who has Down syndrome, reported her missing. “We were scared because we couldn’t get a hold of her and we didn’t know what was going on, so we called the police officer,” Melissa’s sister-in-law Anna Wood told Lexington, KY news station WKYT.

After a Golden Alert was issued, dispatch informed the Frankfort Police Department that Melissa had a warrant for her arrest — in 2011, she allegedly wrote a “cold check” (one written from an empty bank account) for a $37.03 transaction at an Elizabethtown tobacco store. According to The State Journal, the check was written from Wood’s bank account and contained her signature.

A day later, police found Melissa at the Senior Activity Center in Frankfort, where she regularly volunteers. They arrested and detained Melissa in the Hardin County Detention Center for five hours.

"When Melissa needs money, it is brought to her. Melissa does not handle a check book. She's not allowed," Anna told WKYT. Melissa also reportedly has driving violations on her record.

"My sister-in-law has never smoked a day in her life. She does not smoke, she does not drink, and she definitely don't drive,” Anna told WKYT.

Melissa’s cousin Christine Mattingly told The State Journal, “You can tell by looking at her she has Down syndrome, you can tell. They were supposed to help find her and bring her back, but they found her and arrested her.”

Lt. Dustin Bowman of the Frankfort Police Department tells Yahoo Lifestyle the officer had no choice but to arrest Melissa, who is charged with Theft by Deception. “Melissa seemed to understand what was taking place and what it meant to have a warrant,” he says. “It also appeared that she understood what the warrant was about. At no point did she appear confused.”

Bowman says Melissa was treated well — she was handcuffed with her hands in front of her body, she was allowed to use her cell phone in the patrol car to communicate to her boyfriend, and her arrest was expedited.

But Melissa told WKYT, "[I'm] tore up and I'm scared and all this. When they put me in handcuffs I was tore up.”

Anna wants the officers to apologize for taking advantage of Melissa. "To me, I felt like they cared more for the warrant that they had to serve then they did the person that was missing," she said to WKYT.

The State Journal reports that Melissa briefly lived in Hardin County in 2011, but when she moved, she didn’t pack her Social Security card and birth certificate. Her family has reported her identity stolen.

Yahoo Lifestyle could not reach Melissa’s family for comment or obtain her arrest warrant from the Hardin County District Court. She has a court date of May 8.

Anna tells WKYT that Melissa is now intimidated by law enforcement. "She won't talk to [a police officer]. If there was one that walked in this vicinity right now, she would get up and run away. She's scared of them.”

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