Dumb Criminal of the Week: The Guy Who Gave the Cops an Absolutely Terrible Fake Name

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Dec. 6 2012 11:57 AM

Dumb Criminal of the Week: The Guy Who Gave the Cops an Absolutely Terrible Fake Name

Highway Patrol
A Highway Patrol officer stops a car.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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Name: Frankie Portee

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Crime: Assault and battery, resisting arrest.

Fatal mistake: Being really, really bad at pseudonyms.

Circumstances: On June 10, 2010, Portee was riding in the back of a car when it was pulled over by the police. Portee had multiple outstanding probation warrants, and was understandably concerned that the cops would find out about them. So he cleverly decided to identify himself with a fake name.

I’ll let Associate Justice Mark V. Green, who wrote the recent Massachusetts Appeals Court opinion affirming Portee’s conviction, take it from here:

Trooper Driscoll noticed that the defendant was not wearing a seat belt and asked the defendant his name and date of birth in order to cite him for a seat belt violation. The defendant gave the false name of “Daniel Atkins” and a birth date of January 28, 1983.
Trooper Driscoll ran the name “Daniel Atkins” though the computer in his cruiser, and learned that there was an active arrest warrant for a Daniel Atkins, who had a birth date indicating an age in approximately the same range as the date provided by the defendant. Atkins's physical description appeared to match the defendant.

Whoops. Driscoll returned to the car and started to question the increasingly confused and nervous Portee, who apparently had no idea that he’d given the name of a wanted man. He responded with what, at the time, must have seemed like the only reasonable option: pushing Driscoll to the ground and trying to run away. This scheme, too, went awry; Portee was subdued, arrested, and sentenced to four years in state prison. The real Daniel Atkins may still be at large.

How he could’ve been a lot smarter: Portee could’ve worn his seat belt. Better yet, he could’ve just dispensed with the car entirely and decided to ride a bicycle. Nothing bad ever happens to black guys on bicycles.

How he could’ve been a little smarter: Been ready with a better pseudonym. Something trustworthy, like “Joe Innocent.”

How he could’ve been a little dumber: “Hello, my name is Trooper Driscoll. No, wait, that’s your name. Ahh, I’m so drunk right now.”

How he could’ve been a lot dumber: “The name’s, uh, Ayman. That’s right. Ayman al-Zawahiri.” [brushes hands together in gesture of extreme confidence]

Ultimate Dumbness Ranking (UDR): I feel for Portee. This is more a case of bad luck than stupidity. But, as they say, luck is the residue of design. If you know you might be in a situation where you’ll have to give the police a fake name, you ought to be prepared with a pseudonym that you’re absolutely sure is clean. Scour the Internet for lists of centenarians or National Merit Scholars. Take control of your fake identity. 3 out of 10 for Portee.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.