By Anne Stanton
Back a dozen years ago, Christopher David Phillips, 30, was pulled out of
his algebra class at Traverse City Central High School and hauled down to
the office. The principal accused him of getting in a fight with a guy
hed never heard of.
The principal didnt believe me when I told her I had no idea what she
was talking about. There was a lot of back and forth, and finally she
looked at her paperwork again and said, Oh wait. Youre right. Sorry
The real culprit had nearly his same nameChristopher John Phillips. That
was the first time Phillips remembers getting confused with Phillips, with
whom he shares the same hometown, high school, and nearly the same age
Unfortunately, the other Chris Phillips, 29, has been in a lot of trouble
in his short adult lifeincluding five arrests for drunk driving,
aggravated assault, possession
of marijuana, discharge of illegal fireworks, driving without a license,
driving on a suspended license, and multiple proba-
tion violations. On Friday, he was sentenced to prison for drunk driving,
the third offense, and for the attempted assault of a police officer.
MOORE IS LESS...
Within the last few weeks, Phillips, 30, has paid close attention to a new
book, The Other Wes Moore. The author is Wes Moore, a super achiever,
who shares a name with another black man, who will spend the rest of his
life in prison.
Moore has told reporters that he conceived the idea for his book in 2000,
when the Baltimore Sun ran two stories, an unintentional study in
contrast. The first article was about himself, as the first African
American Johns Hopkins student to be selected as a Rhodes Scholar. The
other reported on Wes Moore and three others, who were wanted for the
murder of a police officer during a botched robbery.
The criminal Moore was convicted and sentenced to life without parole. Out
of curiosity, super achiever Moore wrote to him and the other wrote back.
The parallels he found could have easily predicted the same outcome. They
both grew up without fathers in the same tough neighborhood corrupted by
drugs and crime. Both were troublemakers; as young children, both
handcuffed by the age of 11.
So why did their paths diverge? Although both grew up without fathers,
author Moores dad, a journalist, died when Moore was three from a rare,
but curable virus. His mother couldnt handle him, so in desperation, she
borrowed money and sent him to a military school at the age of 12.
The father of the imprisoned Moore abandoned him. In fact, he saw his dad
only three times, the last when his dad, in a heavy drunken daze, lifted
his head and asked him who he was. The prisoner Moore is quoted in the
book: Listen, your father wasnt there because he couldnt be. My father
wasnt there because he chose not to be.
Moores primary message is that kids need dads -- good dads that stick
with their kids. Growing up without a dad is an extraordinary and
far-reaching calamity in a childs life, he says, and not uncommon; nearly
one out of three children are living apart from their biological dad,
according to the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau.
WORSE EVERY YEAR
Phillips has also read newspaper accounts of the other Christopher John
Phillips, whose name appears on the police scanner or in the newspaper
like clockwork each year. Like Moore, he wonders, what happened to him?
Out of curiosity, he went to his sentencing on May 14 and saw a more
nuanced picture of the man hed been reading about in the newspaper. He
was surprised to see that nearly a dozen well-dressed family members and
friends showed up to support him.
Phillips told the judge he was addicted to alcohol and had been since 1998
when his arrests began. He couldnt stop drinking. Then he broke down and
He seemed like he was not that bad of a person, but hed just been
broken. Hed been damaged by a very bad habit. He really seemed like he
didnt have any control, said Phillips.
Thirteenth Circuit Judge Tom Power quickly dispatched his punishment: a
litany of fines and a 29-to-60 month prison sentence followed by terms of
a five-year probationa 6:30 p.m. curfew, no alcohol, no prescription
drugs, no drivers license.
Im glad it wasnt me up there, Phillips said. Judge Power told him,
Id like to believe its your addiction, but you havent been drinking
since you were jailed in March, and youve been in four altercations. You
need this (time in prison) more than anyone Ive ever met. After that, he
just moved onto the next case, and it was over. There he goes, holy
After the sentencing of the man who shares his name, Phillips walked out
of the 13th Circuit Court courtroom and got on the elevator with a
devastated young woman whod been sitting near him. She told him that she
was the mother of the convicted mans two-year-old child. Christopher
David Phillips, who also has a two year-old, thought of introducing
himself, but it just didnt seem like a good time.
The experience gave Phillips a window to a world alien to him. He once was
ticketed for driving past a Best Buy parking lot construction zone, and
thats the closest hes come to legal troubles.
He considers himself fortunate. Growing up, his mom worked as a
cosmetologist, while his dad, Lloyd Phillips, worked on the line for
General Motors before getting a degree from the University of Michigan to
become a certified public accountant. He remembers watching his dad study
at night while he did his own homework.
When he wasnt working, he always wanted to play. It was always about
having fun. He made up rules for the game so that hed lose to me every
time, said Phillips.
Phillips life hasnt been wholly charmedhe studied mathematics at
Northwestern Michigan College and Michigan State University, although he
dropped out, 15 credits shy of graduating. He moved back to Traverse City
to be near his family after hitting hard times in Lansing. He doesnt
regret the decision, but now hes getting confused again with Christopher
Every time Chris Phillips is in the paper or gets arrested, I get all
these Facebook messages and phone calls, he said.
The last time in March, when Phillips was arrested for drunk driving, he
was driving so erratically, a driver took notice and called police. Police
caught up with him, but Phillips didnt pull over. Instead, he parked his
car at a home on Webster Street. Police chased him through some yards,
tackled him, and put him in handcuffs.
Phillips refused to take a sobriety exam and cursed at police. The police
report said he was enraged and kicked himself free from the back seat of
the patrol car. He was pulled back in. While the officer read him his
chemical rights, Phillips reached over with his mouth, tore the paper in
half and spat it out at the officer. He also spat at the officers while
awaiting a blood test at Munson Medical Center. His blood alcohol level
was .19, more than twice the legal limit of .08.
Christopher David Phillips said that something weird happens to him at
least once a year. Once when he was at a bar, a guy wanted to beat him up
for something the other Phillips had done to his girlfriend. Another time
he showed his ID to a bartender. He told me, I thought we kicked you
out last week.
About a year ago, detectives showed up at his door asking about a fight at
Dillingers -- a bar in downtown Traverse City. While the police officers
stood at the door, Phillips called to his roommate, who had been with him
the night before. Where was I last night? The Loading Dock, his
roommate said. The whole time? he said. The whole time.
The police checked the name again, apologized and went on to find the
right Chris Phillips.
Another time, someone got angry with Phillips for a hit-and-run accident.
Those mix-ups didnt really bother him. But the same name has really hurt
him in his attempts to find a job.
Back in March, I had blanketed Traverse City with my resume. The next
week I read in the newspaper, Fifth DUI arrest for local man, I thought,
Oh no! My name Christopher Phillips is in huge letters at the top of
every one of my resumes. Now what am I going to do?
After reading the DUI article, Phillips called some of the potential
employers to forewarn them that the DUI guy in the newspaper wasnt him.
Overkill, maybe, but he had already lost out on a job because of the
That occurred in March of 2008, when he had applied to Rite-Aid for a
job. He and his wife had a seven-month old child to support, and he really
After a series of three interviews, he was told by the district manager
that he had an excellent shot at the position, depending on how his
background check turned out. Phillips wasnt worried about the confusion
with Phillips; he believed his Social Security card would differentiate
A THIRD CHRISTOPHER PHILLIPS?
The next day she calls, and said, four felonies came up on my background
check. She couldnt give me the job. I said, You must be joking. Ive
never seen the inside of a police car, let alone gone to prison. She
said, I have it right in front of me. I can read it to you. I begged her
to run it again.
She did and received the same results. He didnt get the job, so he asked
the district manager for the background report. Phillips learned the
felony record didnt belong to Christopher John Phillips of Traverse City,
but to another Christopher Phillips, who had been convicted for grand
theft auto, felonious assault, theft of an electronic bank device, and
some other felony.
Im looking at this report, and Im dumbfounded. I took it to the police
station, and they tell me I have to go through the Michigan State Police
in Acme, where they tell me to print off a form from the website, get
fingerprinted, and write a letter.
He also talked to a lawyer, who said there was nothing he could do because
the company cited a different reason for not hiring him (a reason never
mentioned to him in any of the interviews).
Phillips called the company that did the background check and inquired
what its investigations involved. The woman said they use the name, date
of birth, and state of residence for the background search, but not a
persons Social Security or drivers license number. So Phillips was
unlucky enough to have a Christopher Phillips in Michigan with the same
That mistake with Rite-Aid really cost me. I could have been paid over
$30,000 a year, and I lost it because of that background check. I havent
found as well a paying job since then.
And yet, after watching the sentencing last week, he has perspective. He
is jobless, thats true, but he is happily married, he has a toddler and a
baby, and hes a free man. He remembers the look of despair and
hopelessness in the eyes of Christopher John Phillips as he left the
courtroom. With his arms in handcuffs and wearing the orange jail suit
that hung on his thin frame, he looked even more diminished than when he
Northern Express sent a letter to the Grand Traverse County Jail to
Christopher John Phillips, asking him about his life. So far, no answer.
Mike of Minnesota
Mike of Michigan
One collection agency cant get it right
By Anne Stanton
With the advent of instant information, not all that information is
Take Mike Johnson, a nurse anesthetist in Charlevoix. His first mix-up
was in 2001 when he and his wife were living in Royal Oak. They got a call
from their credit card company, which was attempting to verify that theyd
received their new credit card. The only problem: theyd never asked for a
new card, and hadnt requested the new $15,000 credit limit the customer
rep had mentioned. They intentionally keep the limit to $2,000 and pay off
the balance each month. The customer sales rep was confused.
We sent your new cards to Chicago, she told Johnson.
Well, you know, were in Michigan, Johnson said.
The customer service rep responded. I see. Ill have to look into your
account to correct this, and Ill need your password.
But the person who had apparently stolen their credit card information had
also changed the password. The customer sales rep said she couldnt deal
with Johnson until he gave her the right password. But Johnson couldnt
give it to her because it had been illicitly changed.
After a few more phone calls, the problem was finally resolved, although
Johnson still doesnt know if the identity thief was ever caught.
THE OTHER MIKE JOHNSON
Fast forward to 2005. The Johnson family is now living in Charlevoix, and
collection notices have mysteriously arrived in their mailbox, demanding
payment for legal fees related to public intoxication and parking tickets.
Johnson was naturally surprised. He never drinks. I try to keep my life
pretty boring, but thats how I like it. Keep life simple.
The collection notices, in fact, were for a Mike Johnson living in
Minnesota, who has the same birthday as Johnsonmonth and day, but not the
same year. The notices came from Hennipen and Ramsey County, Minnesota.
Johnson has never set foot in Minnesota.
Each year, Ill start getting four or five collection notices at a time
that are $100 to $300, somewhere in there. You need to call this number;
were collecting this amount.
They are telling me I owe money for all sorts of things. One is for
public intoxication. One is for indecent exposure. One is for being too
loud in public, all sorts of minor offenses. I cant imagine he has any
money to pay these it will tally up to six hundred or seven hundred
dollars. And Ill get second or third notices.
HOURS ON THE PHONE
This is not a huge life-threatening deal. Its just the time spent. Hours
on the phone, and this has been going for several years. Im a husband and
the father of a couple of young kids. I dont have a lot of extra spare
time, but if you dont deal with it, you have your credit rating to worry
The collection agencies started to get into my credit [rating] to pay the
bill. I didnt know how they had the right to do that. I got notification
from one of the big three credit agencies. They told me, your credit is
starting to get tampered with and they gave me the name of the collection
agency. I was close to having to hire an attorney. Then I found the right
people in the Minnesota collection agency. Ive asked them, Take my name
off. Theyll say, Yes for this one, but when we get a new set of
offenses, your name is the first we go after.
So now I have a person I contact at the collection agency. I dont have
to go through the automated number, explain, transfer, explain again,
transfer, and then theyre not there. Its a yearly thing. I get the
notices. Im kind of waiting for the next batch. It could be worse. Were
healthy, have a great family, good faith. I cant really complain. Its
just one of those things.