At 11:30 on the morning of Friday, April 18, 1986, Deputy Vernell Bolton of the Alexandria Sheriff's Department locked up Cassandra Jones. Jones was dressed in a blue skirt, thin white blouse and blue blazer. Her tweed coat, purse and watch had already been taken away from her by the deputy. When the door slammed shut, she found herself jailed in a miserable, 8-by-11-foot room behind a courtroom in the Alexandria Circuit Court building at 520 King St.

The room was furnished only with a toilet, a sink, a water fountain and three iron benches. The walls were spotted, recalls Jones, "like men had urinated on them. And you could see little blood specks. They took everything away from me, treated me like a criminal. I hadn't eaten breakfast that morning, I was too nervous, so I was hungry, just back there, sitting, sitting, sitting."

"They treated me like a criminal . . ."

Jones was not guilty of murder, or arson, or kidnapping. That morning she had been convicted of impeding a police officer, a misdemeanor so minor that she was sentenced to only 3 1/2 hours in jail. Two months earlier, on February 13, Jones had gotten a telephone call around 7 in the evening from her brother, who said his girlfriend had just stabbed him with a fork. Jones hurried to her brother's house, located in Arlandria, which is a section of housing stuck between the wealthier communities of Alexandria and the county of Arlington.

According to papers filed by Jones in a subsequent court case, when she arrived at her brother's house, one of the officers at the scene, Joseph A. Watson, was "violent and abusive" toward her. Jones said she demanded to know what was happening. When he didn't respond, she said, she became agitated and asked the officer for his badge number. Then, according to Jones' court papers, Watson pushed her against a police car, handcuffed her and took her to the Alexandria police station.

Watson said in a deposition that he was trying to calm down the disturbance when Jones arrived on the scene and began yelling at the woman inside. Watson said he did not let Jones in the house and when she tried to squeeze her way in, he "picked her up and placed her outside the door." Jones became belligerent at that point, according to Watson, and he said that when she followed him from the residence shouting obscenities, he warned her to stop. When that didn't work, he said, he arrested her.

It was no surprise that this situation had taken a turn for the worse for Jones. When she was growing up, her world was never like the one she'd seen on "Father Knows Best" or "Leave It to Beaver." In fact, misfortune had been so much a part of Jones' life that when she woke up on the morning of her court date, she had a vague, uneasy feeling that something was going to go wrong. "I was telling my husband that week before I went to court, 'I just feel so funny about going to court,' " says Jones, a 5-foot-2, 105-pound woman who visibly vibrates with nervousness as she talks. "But he said, 'Don't worry about it. They'll probably just fine you, put you on probation, or something like that.' " Sitting in the cell, Jones began to wonder how many hours had elapsed, but her watch had been taken so she couldn't tell the time, and the room had no outside windows so she couldn't even tell how light or dark it was. She knew she was supposed to be released at 3 in the afternoon -- in fact, needed to be released to pick up her daughter Ebony at school. She knew she could tough it out.

After a while, she dozed off. "When I woke up, my legs were cramping and my butt was numb from the iron bench. I went over to the door and started shaking the rail, the bars. I thought, it's got to be 3 by now. No one came, so I took off my shoe and started banging with the heel and yelling." Still no one came. Jones began to get anxious and confused. Maybe the judge had intended to keep her locked up until 3 on Saturday, not Friday, and she'd misunderstood. The building had become eerily quiet. She thought she heard a door shut and then a lock go "click," so she again began to bang on the door and yell. Silence. She started to cry and to pray, begging God's forgiveness, thinking that surely this was punishment for all the wrong things she had done. "You know, you start repenting for all your sins; you don't know what's going on. All kinds of thoughts were going through my mind. I was just so scared and afraid." "You don't know what's going on . . ."

On the morning of her court date, the weather was sunny and mild, the temperature in the high 60s. Jones woke up and made breakfast for her husband Garrett, a Metro bus driver for the last eight years, straightened up the house and wrote a list of errands to run on her day off from her job as a checker at Giant Food's Marlow Heights store. Because she missed connecting with her mother, who'd volunteered to go with her, Jones wound up alone in court.

She and her husband had just purchased their first house, and because funds were low, she'd gotten a court-appointed lawyer. She said she called her lawyer several times to try to set up a meeting but never received a response. When she met with him for the first time the morning of the trial, she said, he advised her to plead guilty, in spite of her protestations of innocence.

"I said, 'Plead guilty? Plead guilty to what?' " recalls Jones. "It wasn't my fault." Her lawyer told her if she pleaded not guilty, she could get up to 10 days in jail, but if she pleaded guilty, she'd get one day, Jones says. He also told her that since Watson was a police officer, the judge would more than likely believe him, says Jones. "All I could see was that one day was better than 10 days, so I said okay, but I didn't like the idea of pleading guilty to something I did not do."

But by the time she entered the courtroom, Jones had gone from feeling uncomfortable to feeling angry and afraid. What she had wanted to believe was a minor matter had become ominous. She asked the judge if she could have another lawyer. But the judge told her that he wasn't going to be able to hear her case and was sending it to traffic court. Jones ended up there, represented by the same court-appointed attorney who, she believed, was getting increasingly angry at his rebellious client.

When her case was called, she followed her attorney's advice and pleaded guilty before Judge Robert T.S. Colby. The assistant commonwealth's attorney, Trudi A. Berlin, recommended one day in jail. The judge suspended all but 3 1/2 hours in jail. She would be out by 3 that afternoon.

Jones' court-appointed attorney, Christopher Schewe, commented recently on Jones' case: "{My} representation of her was proper. She voluntarily pleaded guilty. The 3 1/2 hours was not out of step . . . I do have compassion for {Jones'} situation," says Schewe. "I think that she was just very, very scared that day. And I think her taking the choice she did was a good idea."

Subsequent attempts to reach Schewe for response to Jones' specific allegations were unsuccessful.

When Jones received her sentence, she started to cry. "I knew my daughter would be out of school at 3, and I was worried about her. I asked if I could make a call, and the deputy taking me away said no. They locked me up at 11:30."

The deputy took Jones to a holding cell behind the courtroom. City officials later said the cell was "relatively clean," with facilities that were "in good working order." Jones' recollection, however, was otherwise. In court papers, she said that the cell was "vile and filthy," and she says that neither the sink nor the drinking fountain worked. In either case, it was where Jones found herself on a bright sunny morning, and where her terror began. Jones assumed it was Saturday. She was cold and hungry, and her stomach was growling -- it had been almost two days since her last meal, Thursday dinner. She used the cell's toilet and noticed that she was spotting blood. "I thought it was my nerves, and I was really scared. My whole body just felt unclean. I think it was Saturday evening -- I'm just guessing -- I passed out. When I came to, I was on the floor. I was real hot and dehydrated, and the water wasn't working in the fountain. So I went to the toilet and flushed it and put some of that water on my face and then I just started sipping it."

Jones began to worry about what was going on outside. No one knew where she was. She had not been allowed to call and tell anyone that she was going to be locked up, and she suspected that her lawyer hadn't called anyone. She started thinking about her husband, "my daughter, my mother, because nobody knew where I was. I kept saying to myself, 'Garrett, if you love me, you'll know where I am. You'll feel my vibes.' " "I've never been in any trouble . . ."

When Cassandra was 19, she met Garrett. She saw him every day at the bus stop where he got off when his shift was over. Meeting Garrett was the best thing that ever happened to her. The morning of her trial, Jones recalls, "I was thinking that all the bad things were behind me -- we had bought a house and I had gotten a job with Giant when I was 21, and it was like good things are happening for me in life. And then this happened."

At 25, Cassandra Jones had already lived a hard life. Her childhood was full of what she calls "unexpected things." When she was 2, a fire in her home in Charlotte, N.C., killed her sister and left Cassandra with third-degree burns. Soon after the fire, the family moved to Virginia. School was always difficult: The kids teased her about her scars. What she dreaded most was gym and changing into shorts. She ached with envy at the sight of the smooth, pretty skin on the other kids.

Until she was 15, Cassandra lived with her mother and a stepfather who usually just ignored her but occasionally had violent flashes that terrified her. In 1976, she went to live in a foster home. That year, Cassandra got pregnant by the nephew of her foster parents. She says he denied the child was his. In 1985 Cassandra successfully obtained support from him for her then 8-year-old daughter, Ebony. WHEN GARRETT LEFT FOR WORK THAT Friday in April, Cassandra told him she planned to meet with a girlfriend Friday evening, that she would be home late. It wasn't until about 2:30 Saturday morning, when he woke up and realized his wife wasn't in the bed, that he got worried. He waited until it was light out to start making calls. When the girlfriend Cassandra was supposed to have gone out with told him she hadn't seen her, he went down to the Alexandria police station, but was informed he couldn't file a missing persons continued on page 48 continued from page 33 report until she'd been gone 48 hours.

There was no sign of her; no one had seen her or heard from her since she'd left for court Friday morning. That wasn't like Cassandra. She was supposed to be at work Saturday morning. She always let someone, her husband or her mother or her boss, know what her plans were, even when they changed only slightly. She wasn't a drinker or a partyer or forgetful. She was a quiet, serious woman whose life focused on her family. When she didn't come home, everyone knew something was wrong.

Garrett drove the streets of Alexandria that Saturday, searching for his wife or her car, periodically calling his mother-in-law to see if she'd heard from Cassandra. From the moment she'd disappeared, both Cassandra Jones' husband and mother were convinced something horrible had happened to her. They didn't really talk about what it could be, superstitious that voicing their fears might make them real. Garrett finally found the car -- the only sign of his wife -- about a block from the courthouse. In the courthouse, nobody could tell him anything. The courtrooms were all locked and little business took place on the weekend. On Sunday, Jones' mother called the Alexandria police, who checked the jails in Alexandria, Fairfax and Arlington. No one thought to check the holding cell behind the courtroom because prisoners seldom served out their sentences there. Jones' family spent a sleepless Sunday night, resolved to go to the courthouse first thing Monday morning and demand some answers. Jones knew that she was starting to lose control. She slapped herself a few times and talked aloud, giving herself words of encouragement. "I would say, 'Cassandra, it's going to be okay.' Then I said, 'It is not going to be okay.' I was just trying to get a grip on myself. I said to myself, 'This must be what happens to people when they go to jail. Maybe this is happening to me because of something bad I did.' "

The cell got colder. She wrapped her shirt around her to keep warm, but it was still cold. She waited. She cried some more. Then she prayed, screamed and banged on the little window in the door. Finally, Jones heard a sound of life -- a vacuum cleaner. She assumed it was Monday morning and that the courthouse workers were filing back in. She kept on banging and yelling. The door of her cell opened. A man peeked in and said, "What are you doing back here?" Jones said, "What do you mean, 'What am I doing?' I was supposed to be out Friday at 3 and no one ever came to let me out. I was supposed to work Saturday and Sunday and no one knows where I am!" "Maybe this is happening to me because of something bad I did . . ."

Cassandra Jones' sentence ended 69 hours after she was first locked up, on Monday morning, April 21. The man who discovered her, Deputy Sheriff Walter Travers, told her he'd have to go see who she was and find out what was going on. Those were the worst minutes of all, she said, even worse than the 69 hours she'd been forgotten in the holding cell. She was more frightened about being found and then locked up again than she was at having been forgotten. When Travers discovered her, then left her, she said, she "just gave up on everything. I thought, 'He's not coming back. They're really going to kill me, now.' " But he did come back, and he told her she was free to go.

The deputy gave Jones her possessions, told her she could leave and directed her toward an office in the courthouse where she could get a form indicating that she had been locked up for the weekend. She needed it to explain her absence to her supervisor at Giant.

On her way to the office to get the release form, Jones fainted. She had been without food, clean water or heat for 69 hours. She was taken to the hospital, examined, fed intravenously and released a few hours later.

Several weeks after her ordeal, Jones was still suffering from fainting spells. When she went to the doctor for an examination, she was told she was approximately six weeks pregnant. Soon after, she was admitted to the Psychiatric Institute of Washington -- where she stayed from May 27 to July 2 -- for treatment of suicidal tendencies and paranoia. She kept imagining that the arresting officer was after her. "I was cold all the time," she says. "I couldn't eat for a week and a half, just soup. I stayed off work from April 19 until August 5. I have been seeing a psychiatrist ever since this happened."

She left work on maternity leave in early October. "I was nervous and depressed all the time," says Jones. "I just couldn't cope." On January 8, 1987, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl. In March 1987 she returned to work at Giant's Camp Springs store and in May was selected by the manager, Bob Tanavage, to appear in a television commercial for Giant, a privilege she subsequently declined because of emotional stress. Tanavage describes Jones as "an exceptional employe. She is very versatile, extremely pleasant and very cooperative." ALEXANDRIA SHERIFF JAMES DUNNING

was working in his office on the third floor of the courthouse on the Sunday Jones was incarcerated, unaware that she was there. Ironically, Dunning was elected sheriff in 1985 on a campaign platform promising improved management and security. Immediately after the incident, Dunning acknowledged that a terrible mistake had been made, "a function of simple human error, a very serious mistake. I'm very sorry for Ms. Jones."

Deputy Sheriff Vernell Bolton, who placed Jones in the holding cell at 11:30 on Friday, April 18, was suspended with pay on April 21, 1986, subjected to a disciplinary investigation and chose to resign from the department on May 7, 1986. Several attempts to get in touch with Bolton were unsuccessful. According to Dunning, "She does not want to talk to the press about this."

Attorney Amy Robertson Goldson was retained by Jones soon after her incarceration. Goldson immediately filed an appeal in Alexandria Circuit Court to withdraw Jones' guilty plea and asked for a new trial, to be decided by a jury. The City of Alexandria chose not to pursue the appeal, and all charges against Cassandra Jones were dropped in July.

On April 21, 1987, Goldson filed a $6 million suit against Dunning in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia alleging violation of Jones' civil rights, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent training and supervision.

On September 29, the day the trial was scheduled to begin and after a jury had been seated in the courtroom, a recess was called. Fourteen minutes later, Goldson and Dunning's attorney, James Hopper, settled the case for an undisclosed amount.

In a separate action, on February 12, Goldson filed suit against Officer Joseph A. Watson and the City of Alexandria, asking for nearly $1 million in damages and legal fees. The suit alleges false arrest, false imprisonment, deprivation of Jones' civil rights and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Watson and the city have denied the allegations and the suit is pending.

Cassandra Jones still has trouble eating, sleeping and being alone. Her husband, mother and daughter Ebony think she's getting better, but she still has bad times. The feelings of limitless possibility that she had before the morning of April 18 are gone, replaced by the suspicion that maybe things never do really change, that possibly she'll never control her own destiny, that when she least expects it, something can come right out of the blue and ruin everything -- maybe forever. ::