LPD admits mislabeled report caused missing persons case to fall through the cracks

Officer involved to receive counseling, retraining

LAKELAND, Fla. - The Lakeland Police Department admits its detective should have investigated a report of a missing woman back in 2012, but the report fell through the cracks.

On Monday, the Polk County Sheriff's Office confirmed skeletal remains found last year belong to Mary Rhodes, the woman who was reported missing by her parents 16 months earlier to LPD.

The LPD officer who initially took the report in May 2012 told her parents that she didn't match state's criteria of a missing person and titled it an "information" report.

"The mistake that the officer made in that report is he did not title it a 'missing person,'" said Sgt. Gary Gross, LPD spokesman.

Due to the mislabeled report, detectives never saw it and the case was never investigated.

"Since this officer did this and brought it to our attention, we know that an information report could get lost in the system. We have changed are procedure," Gross said. "The whole system is totally different and has been revamped, and we don't want to see this mistake happen again."

The officer involved will receive counseling and retraining, Gross said.

Rhodes had a criminal history that included arrests for drugs and prostitution, but Sheriff Grady Judd told reporters Monday the family should not have been turned away when they went to LPD for help.

"They were told, as it was repeated to me, that she did not meet the criteria to be a missing person," he said.

Now sheriff's detectives are backtracking, trying to figure out how Rhodes died and who was involved.

"We have got to talk to people who may know about Mary Rhodes," Judd said.

A man looking for scrap metal found skeletal remains in a box on Wabash Avenue in Lakeland last September.

Judd said Rhodes' sister came forward after the discovery and reminded deputies that her sister is still missing.

That's when LPD realized its paperwork error.

A Texas lab used DNA to confirm that the remains belonged to Rhodes.

"She didn't die at that location. Somebody brought her there in a box," Judd told reporters.

James Pearson, Rhodes' father, told ABC Action News he didn't want to discuss the case until after he spoke with detectives.

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