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Mom Shaken By Mistaken Identity

A bullet hole in Silver Spring, Md., where Sarah Ramos was killed after getting off a bus at the Leisure World Shopping Center, is seen Thursday, Oct. 3, 2002.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
A bizarre case of mistaken identity sent Nona Cason, a single mother of two in Sunrise, Fla., into the "The Twilight Zone" for a few weeks.

On The Early Show Monday, Cason described what happened to her and how it affected her life.

In May, federal authorities mistook her for a French woman who had run off with her children seven years ago. They surrounded the car she was driving and ordered her to get out at gunpoint. She was arrested and jailed for six days while her children were placed in foster care for three weeks.

Cason had moved to Florida from Macon, Ga., in the spring of 2002 to get medical treatment for her 9-year-old daughter, Silvia, and her 11-year-old son Charles.

"I was going east on Commercial Boulevard taking my children to therapy and I noticed there was a police road block ahead of me and then I looked in my mirror and noticed there was one behind me," she said.

"Before I knew it, there were police officers running through this traffic with their guns drawn and my son was sitting next to me and said, 'Mom, what's going on?' I said, 'Honey, I don't know.'

"By the time those words got out of my mouth, the police officers had surrounded my car. I had thought, 'My goodness, they're going to arrest someone.' I had no idea at all that they were going to arrest me. So it was very, very frightening. It's probably the scariest thing, having all the officers pointing their guns at me."

After watching their mother get thrown in jail for a crime she didn't commit, Silvia, who is autistic, and Charles, who has a learning disability, were taken from her and put into state custody and foster care for almost three weeks.

Cason says, "This was outrage. Very scared, very sad, very upsetting experience."

She was handcuffed and shackled, forced to use the name of Nadine Tretiakoff, denied the right to contact an attorney and was strip-searched whenever she was transferred. Federal and French authorities believed she was a French woman, who was married to Pierre Fourcade for more than 20 years and ran off with their two children in 1996.

What's really strange is that when she appeared before a judge, Fourcade, who had flown in from France, identified her as his wife and the mother of his children.

Cason says, "The judge was very thorough in asking him and he was allowed to approach me unescorted. I was in the jury box, chained and shackled. He was able to approach me. Got approximately two to three feet from me. Then positively identified me."

DNA tests taken from swabs of her children's mouths and a blood test from him eventually proved that he couldn't be their father. According to his attorney, Fourcade's "mistake was innocent." He said that his client was going on what French and American authorities told him. He thought that maybe she had had plastic surgery to disguise her identity.

Though no legal action has been taken, Cason's attorney, Marc Shelowitz, says they are leaving their options opened.

He says, "This is the most egregious act, how a U.S. citizen can be treated like this. A foreign national, with the help of the French government, can put a U.S. citizen through this. In this country's system, we're innocent until proven guilty."

When Fourcade saw Cason's children, he was surprised to see the daughter was autistic, according to some officials with the Department of Children and Family Services who were there. He also said that he didn't know the boy.

Shelowitz believes the French government put pressure on the United States authorities to make this arrest.

He says, "Even before the DNA tests were ordered and back, the French government said this is a French citizen. This is a fugitive from justice. This is Nadine. We want those children back in France immediately. It was the court system. Everything worked in a good way locally with the child protection team, the attorney general's office, a local organization called Child Net. They had cooler heads and were able to stave off the pressure and prevent the children from returning to France. If they were returned to France, my client would still be looking for these children, which is really scary."

Shelowitz believes his client was being investigated by federal authorities for a year beginning in April 2002 after someone reported Cason and her children to Interpol, an international police agency. According to The Miami Herald, Larry Burns, Chief Deputy Marshal for Southern Florida declined to comment.