"I've never seen any place like that," says Elizabeth Milton, arrested on a 19-year-old bad check charge.
By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
Published June 25, 2004
[Times photo: Toni Sandys]
Elizabeth Milton wipes a tear as she talks about her arrest in relation to a 1985 bad check for $145.93.
TAMPA - Elizabeth E. Milton is an 80-year-old widow with a weak heart. She is a great-grandmother who weighs all of 105 pounds, has arthritis and carries 15 types of medication in her purse.
According to records, she has no criminal history in Florida. Her children say the closest she has ever gotten to criminal activity was when she worked in a gunpowder factory in Kentucky decades ago.
Her only addiction? Soap operas.
But Wednesday night Milton was arrested, put in the back of a sheriff's patrol car and carted off to the Orient Road Jail. Her crime, according to the deputy who pulled her car over for a random license tag search, was a bad check written almost 19 years ago for less than $150.
She was arrested on a corner in suburban Carrollwood. The deputy let her call one of her sons, who followed behind as his mother was taken to jail. She was there until 4:15 a.m. Thursday, when she posted $1,000 bail.
Milton is a strong-willed, dignified mother of eight. She has buried two husbands, outlived a son who died of heart failure and survived her own heart operations. So she kept her emotions to herself until she got home to the tiny government-subsidized apartment where she has lived for seven years.
There, she sat down on the edge of her bed and wept.
"They made me take my shoes off and put my hands on the counter, and they felt all over to search me," she said Thursday, crying. "I've never seen any place like that."
* * *
About 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, she was headed home from a party in Lake Magdalene for a son's 31st wedding anniversary. A sheriff's car came up behind her, lights flashing.
She pulled her 1993 Lincoln Town Car over at Orange Grove Drive and Coquita Lane. Deputy Melvin Jones told her he was just doing a random check on her tag.
"A few minutes later he came back to my car and said "I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to take you in,' " Milton said.
Her daughter, Sandy Santos, and son, Stan Young, came as soon as she called from her cell phone. Then the deputy drove off with Milton in the back of his car.
At the jail, Milton was put in a holding room full of other recently arrested people.
By now, it was past 11 p.m., when Milton was supposed to have taken her medication, including nitroglycerine pills for her heart.
She started feeling shaky and sweaty. The room full of people, most younger and rougher than her, didn't help.
"I just thought the police would take me into a room and talk to me," Milton said. "But they put me in a room with all these people. They were laying all over the floor. I was afraid to sit down. I'd find a wall somewhere and lean back, but I'm not supposed to stand up for too long. My legs started to hurt."
Milton said she asked the guards for her pills, but they did not give them to her. Out in the jail lobby, her daughter was begging corrections deputies to make sure her mother got her medicine.
Sheriff's spokesman Lt. Rod Reder said the jail cannot administer pills people bring in "because we don't know what they are."
"If there's a physical problem with an inmate," he said, "nurses are on staff."
Milton was released from jail at 4:15 a.m.
* * *
On Thursday, her children were furious. They said it wasn't necessary to haul their mother off to jail over an old worthless check of less than $150.
"I can understand if there's a warrant out there, the officer is not a judge and he has to do his job. But let's use some common sense," said her youngest son Mark Young, 43. "She's not a threat."
Sheriff's officials said they followed the law by arresting a person wanted on a warrant. Still, Reder conceded that if they had to do it again, they would try to avoid locking up someone like Milton.
Reder said the arresting deputy told his supervisor that he had "an older woman with a warrant." But the supervising sergeant was at a crash scene on N Dale Mabry Highway and didn't realize just how old Milton was.
"I know the sergeant, and if he'd known she was 80 years old, he would have said "Hey, let's think about this,' " Reder said.
"But the fact is, the deputy followed procedure. At what age do we say a woman is too old to be taken to jail?"
Reder said the deputy did Milton a courtesy by letting her call her children first. He also didn't impound her car, letting her children pick it up instead.
"We can't waive a judicial warrant just because we feel like it," Reder said.
According to court records, the check from Central Bank of Tampa was made out for $145.93 to a Pamela Kovack on Dec. 24, 1985. Milton said she can't recall what she ate last week, much less a check she wrote almost two decades ago.
"But I've never had a check bounce," she insisted. "I know my checkbook down to the penny."
Milton and her children wonder why it took law enforcement so long to confront her about the check.
She gets a monthly Social Security check, so the government has her address. She has lived in Tampa since 1977, when she moved there with her second husband, Leo Milton. She's been in the same apartment for seven years.
She had to undergo a criminal background check when she applied to move into her Section 8 apartment south of Busch Boulevard.
State attorney's spokeswoman Pam Bondi said she can't imagine why the warrant was out there for so long.
"But I would assume the statute of limitations is long gone by now," Bondi said.
Milton hopes so.
If she ends up with a criminal record, the government could force her out of her apartment, where every surface is covered with pictures of her children, her 21 grandchildren and her 19 great-grandchildren.
"I don't know what I'll do if I have to move," she said.
Then she wiped the tears from her cheeks with a Kleenex and leaned back in her favorite pink chair.