'It hurts, it's wrong': Tacoma PD charges wrong man following woman's attack

Roughly four days after a Tacoma woman ended things with her boyfriend, Michael Wiltfong, the terrorizing had begun: text messages threatening to kill her and words like hoe and slut written on her windows. 

To cap things off, she said Wiltfong showed up the night of March 11 yelling, "I’m gonna beat your ass" at a friend that was inside her home.

The victim, we’ll call her Amber to protect her identity, knew it was her ex-boyfriend. In fact, she saw him and was eventually pushed down to the ground by him, according to a police report filed by Tacoma police.

The night of March 11, she went to investigate sounds coming from outside of her Tacoma apartment. She told police that Wiltfong rushed past her, making it inside the home and locking her out.

Police would later report that she was injured when they arrived. Wiltfong had run off, but not before knocking her to the concrete as he exited her apartment, causing her an injury to her ankle. She reported it as the third run-in with Wiltfong since the break-up after four months of dating. 

It wasn’t even the first time the police had been called that day.

This also wasn’t Wiltfong’s first run-in with the police. In fact, he has a long criminal history. A cursory search of his name leads to a sex offender registry with entries for both rape and failure to register as a sex offender. The registry details that Wiltfong, 38, goes by the street name "Monster" and has a face tattoo to identify him. 

Which is why it came as a shock when another man living roughly 25 miles away in Buckley received a court summons from the Tacoma City Attorney’s Office.

When the wrong man was told he’d need to hire an attorney and fight the case in court, he turned to FOX 13 Seattle. It took a few phone calls, and a short drive to track down the victim. 

Upon seeing the picture of the man Tacoma’s city attorney had charged, she said, "How can they mess that up? Wow."

Same name, different man

Robert Lee Wiltfong, 50, is roughly the same height and weight as the suspect in the Tacoma Police investigation. However, he’s 10+ years older than Amber’s ex-boyfriend and is missing the telltale face tattoo that is described in at least one of the police reports associated with the incident.

The man, who police and lawyers intended to charge, is Robert Michael Wiltfong, a 38-year-old transient man who has previously been convicted of rape among other crimes.

For the innocent Wiltfong, being accused of a crime was bad. When he learned who he shared a name with, and what type of behavior he was being linked to it felt like a nightmare.

"It hurts, it’s wrong … it’s just not fair," said the innocent Wiltfong.

Wiltfong had previous drug run-ins with police when he was a young man. He and his wife spent a lifetime putting their lives on track. He hadn’t interacted with police for a criminal offense in more than 20 years.

Wiltfong and his wife assumed the court envelope would be tied to previous fines they had paid for drug crimes from their younger years. Courts across Washington are currently in the process of returning funds paid tied to misdemeanor drug crimes – instead of a settlement, they were floored to find that the innocent Wiltfong was accused of a months-long relationship with a woman, that ended in criminal charges. He was due in court this month.

When he and his wife did some sleuthing and realized that another Robert Wiltfong existed, they made calls to everyone they could at the courthouse in an attempt to fix the problem. They had two major concerns: the cost of fighting the case and the concern that this could show up in his background for years to come.

However, after calls and pleas for help, they were told they’d have to miss work, and appear in court to fix the problem created by a shoddily written police report, and the charges that followed without anyone ever interacting with him before the summons.

"I realize they have a tough job to do," said Wiltfong. "I know mistakes can happen, but when somebody makes all the effort to prove their innocence, alibis, photographs, statements, and you still have to come down and miss work and hire a lawyer, that’s pretty disappointing."

Three separate police reports were written on March 11 describing an event where "Monster" harassed and injured his ex-girlfriend. Each was filed by a separate officer. Two correctly listed that the suspect was a transient but included all the biographical information of the innocent Wiltfong, while a third ID'd the suspect as "Monster" but included all biographical information and the address of the innocent Wiltfong.

Those mistakes were carried over next by the Tacoma City Attorney’s Office, demanding the innocent Wiltfong to face an Assault 4th Degree charge before a judge on April 17.

"Why couldn’t they do a little due diligence and look through the paperwork one more time to discover these things that [FOX 13 Seattle] was able to discover," asked the innocent Wiltfong.

"If we have to go to court that’s a days loss of wages for both of us," his wife, Megan Wiltfong said. "If we have to retain a lawyer that’s just more financial strain, and then there is the emotional side of things."

Victim: That's not him

The victim, who we are calling Amber to prevent her real name from being revealed, was quick to note: the pictures of the man facing charges are not the man who assaulted her. She would know, she dated him for four months prior to the alleged attack.

"It’s unfortunate," she said. "I would be freaking out if I was in his shoes."

Amber went through a number of photos and identified Robert Michael Wiltfong, the man with a Monster energy drink tattoo under his right eye, as the man that attacked her multiple times. 

After speaking with FOX 13 Seattle she even offered to get in contact with the falsely accused man, or investigators to ensure he didn’t face any penalties for the actions of another man.

"I don’t want this guy to pay for what [Robert Michael Wiltfong] has done," she said. "It’s not fair. You know what I mean?"

Investigators react

After FOX 13 reached out to the Tacoma Police Department and the Tacoma City Attorney’s Office, Robert Lee Wiltfong’s court date was moved up without his knowledge. He was only notified after the charges had been dropped.

Wiltfong and his wife were contacted by a court clerk, who shared an order. It noted in red: "Charge to be removed from defendant’s record."

As of this writing, no one from the city attorney’s office has responded to FOX 13 Seattle.

However, a Tacoma Police public information officer admitted that the wrong name was put into the police reports. She likened their software to Outlook email, and when officers input information it will often populate information. Given the uncommon name "Robert Wiltfong," it appears that no one noticed that there was more than one person with that name.

It is not clear how, or why, the name of Robert who had no connection with the victim and no run-ins with the law in two decades, auto-filled. However, the public information officers noted that a detective has since been assigned to the case to investigate what went wrong. In the meantime, Robert Michael Wiltfong, aka Monster, has since been charged with assault. 

"It’s definitely not an easy situation," said the spokesperson by phone. "I feel for the man whose identity was mistaken, most certainly."

As for Robert who should never have faced the charges, he told FOX 13 Seattle that the whole ordeal has been confusing. His wife said she is simply thankful that someone finally listened.

"I cannot express how thankful I am," said Megan Wiltfong. "Nobody else would hear us, or help us. It’s one of those stories you tell people and they don’t believe you because this is not supposed to happen.

As Tacoma detectives investigate what went wrong, FOX 13 will keep tabs on the investigation and update viewers when new information becomes available.

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