Speaking on a scratchy cell phone line from a street in Tijuana, Mexico, Ever Perez explains how he came to spend more than four months of 2011 in a Pennsylvania jail.
"The officers stopped me on a mountain" road, he said, with his wife and daughter in his minivan, on their way to a flea market.
"I told my family that everything would be all right, that nothing would happen. But, the police delayed for about a half-hour, and I thought that something was wrong."
It turned out that Perez's trouble dated back to a night in the fall of 2010. His brother, Jose, had borrowed his minivan for the night and was pulled over. Ever kept his ID in the glove box and when his brother was pulled over, he handed it to the officer.
Ever Perez and his brother do not look alike. Jose is 7 inches taller. But based on the ID, the officer had charged "Ever Perez" with a DUI.
Now, the police who'd stopped his car the second time had found an outstanding warrant for Perez, for failing to show up to "his" court date for the DUI.
They left his family on the side of the rural road and took him away.
Perez is now living and working alone in Tijuana because during the four-plus months he sat awaiting a hearing to clear up this case of mistaken identity with the help of a Spanish-language interpreter, immigration officers discovered he was in the country illegally. He later agreed to leave the country voluntarily.
At the time of his original incarceration, Perez had been in the U.S. for nine years, but he still speaks only very basic English.
He wanted to plead not guilty. To do that he needed an interpreter in court, but, repeatedly, court transcripts show, the court didn't have one or the interpreter didn't show. His hearing was rescheduled days and weeks into the future.
He languished in a cell in the Dauphin County jail, agonizing over whether to admit to the crime he hadn't committed and get a quicker release, which even a public defender advised him to do.
"I cried," recalled Perez. "I cried, and spent a lot of time thinking about my family. I occupied my time with the bible and praying."
The jail was next to a Toys 'R' Us and, during his absence, his wife told his daughter that he worked there. She received desperate calls from Perez begging her to find someone who could help.
"I was sad, desperate. Really, all that we want is for him to come as soon as possible," his wife said.
Attorneys consulted say normally a hearing like this one occurs within 72 hours of arrest. People familiar with the Dauphin County courts say it's unusual to have a case rescheduled more than once to wait for an interpreter.
A friend, frustrated by lack of progress in the case, found a private attorney who finally got all the parties in the room. Quickly discovering the original officer's mistake, the prosecutor got up first and told the judge they had the wrong man.
Perez's ordeal in the criminal system was over. It had lasted 130 days. He could have been released, but with his illegal immigration status confirmed, he was targeted for deportation.
"I want to be over there," he said on the phone from Mexico. "The hardest thing is to be apart from my family."
His wife and 7-year-old daughter, an American citizen, remain in the U.S., living with family in Harrisburg.
They visit the office of his newest lawyer to consult on the fate of his new court case.
This attorney, Val Burch, is bringing a civil rights lawsuit on Perez's behalf, pro-bono, asking for financial compensation for his extended stay in jail.
What happened to her client, she says, "is exactly why the rules of criminal procedure and constitutional rules that we all follow about timing and right to talk to a judge exist. This is exactly why they exist."
WHYY contacted the lawyers for all 13 defendants, including the arresting state trooper, judges, court administrator and public defender. None would comment for this story, nor could some of the defendants be reached directly. They must file responses to Perez's suit by the end of August.
The friend who has come with Perez's wife to interpret, Alma Riley, leans forward, confiding in English to this reporter that the family hopes to see Perez if he's permitted to come back to testify in the case.
"It was really hard over there in Mexico right now. I don't want to say this because we don't want to alarm the wife, but he got beat up real bad over there and ended up at the hospital, [by] some gang members," Riley said.
Stranded in Tijuana, Perez himself brings up his family's hopes and goals—earning the money to buy a house and put his daughter through a better school—which have been put on hold. If it becomes clear he can never return, the family will join him in Mexico, but he hopes it doesn't come to that.
This story was reported through a news coverage partnership between NBC10.com and NewsWorks.org