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Sunday, April 25, 2010

THE PREDATORS AMONG US


This afternoon my phone rang and it was a call from the Working Family's Registrar of Voters Urania Petit. It was in the middle of the Red Sox game where the Sox had just scored to take the lead. I was almost ready to let voice mail grab the call, but I figured for Urania to be calling on a Sunday afternoon, something must be going on. Maybe she was calling to tell me Eddie cut a deal, that would definitely be better than any Red Sox win.

Something was going on, but it wasn't the deal I had hoped for.

Urania had just received a call from Father Emmanuel from Saint Michaels Church on Clark Street asking for her help. Apparently one of Father Emmanuels parishioners had parked in Saint Michael's Church parking lot to attend Mass. When she came out her car was gone. Luckily for the parishioner it wasn't stolen by an unknown person.

The car was actually "stolen" by a driver from Whitey's Towing Service. For those not familiar with Whitey's, they are predatory towers preying on some of Hartford's most vulnerable residents exercising what they call "trespass tows". They have contracts with many property owners to remove vehicles that park on lots where they apparently aren't authorized to park.

The problem is that they do this without any, or very little, oversight. Whitey's knows that many of the vehicles they tow are from people that can't or won't fight back, and the only way to recover your vehicle is to pay the $90.00 or more fee.

After Father Emmanuel's parishioner realized the car had been towed by Whitey's, he drove her to Whitey's West Service Road goldmine, also known as the impound lot. There the driver who towed the vehicle spoke with Father Emmanuel. He refused to release the vehicle until the $90.00 fee was paid. He apparently described to Father Emmanuel how he had towed the vehicle from alongside the church near the side fire escape.

Father Emmanuel questioned how they could do that and the driver replied that Saint Michael's had a signed contract with Whitey's to remove the vehicles. Even though there were no signs warning violators about the towing as required by State regulations, the driver refused to give back the vehicle.

That's when Urania called me, she must know I love a good fight, especially when the Giant is abusing the little guy.

I met with Father Emmanuel at Saint Michael's Church, he showed me exactly where the car was parked and related most of the above information to me. My next call was to the Hartford Police to become involved. They requested we go back to Whitey's and wait for the officer to arrive. We did and shortly thereafter three officers showed up and they spoke with the driver.

After speaking to the driver the Officer's came back to us and stated it was a civil matter since the Whitey's driver showed him a contract signed by an Arthur Teale for towing at 17-19 Clark Street. OOPS, the problem is that Saint Michael's Church is 7-9
Clark Street, not 17-19.

It seems like that should have been a simple matter at that point, a mistake was made, return the car, end of story.

Nope, the Whitey's driver was still insisting that the $90.00 fee be paid and that the car owner would have to come back to the office on Monday to rectify the matter and get a refund.

At that point I asked the officer for a supervisor to intervene in the situation. The officer resplied to me that "supervisors don't come to you, you have to go to 50 Jennings Road". Whether the officer realized it or not, he was interrupting the Red Sox game for me, and that was not the answer I wanted, or expected, to hear.

At that point I once again explained to the officer that there were a few problems with the tow. First off that the property at Saint Michael's was not posted for "trespass" towing as required by the State of Connecticut. Second, the driver himself admitted he had towed the vehicle from the wrong address without any authority or permission to tow the car.

For anyone else that would constitute motor vehicle theft and taking the car without the owners permission. It would seem that would no longer make it a civil matter, and the drivers actions were criminal. Especially after he admitted his mistake, the car should have been returned immediately.

Again I requested a supervisor and the officer again refused. As much as I didn't want to involve Chief Roberts in a matter like this on a Sunday afternoon, there are times when it is good to have him in your speed dial.

When the two officers there realized that I was calling the Chief, a quick conversation was held with the Whitey's driver by the officers and not surprisingly, the decision was made to return the vehicle to its owner.

Chief Roberts assured me he will be following up on this tomorrow as to the way it was handled and the fact that even after repeated requests for a supervisor, no supervisor was requested. I have every confidence that some "customer service" training classes will be in a couple of officers immediate future.

It is time for both the City Council and the State's Attorney's Office to launch an immediate investigation into predatory towing practices in Hartford. At the very least, an ordinance regulating these towing practices needs to be looked at and imposing severe penalties for incidents just such as today's

It will be interesting to FOI the Hartford Police Departments record of complaints against Whitey's Towing and others preying on Hartford's residents and visitors to the City.

The end result is the car owner got her vehicle back, but I am far from done with this one. If you have any information regarding Whitey's or similar such incidents, please feel free to e-mail me any details at krbrookman@earthlink.net, or if you would like, post them here.

11 comments:

Tow Guy said...

Mr. Brookman,
I appreciate your article on this issue. I have been a tow operator in the Hartford area for 5 years. I am quite familiar with the laws concerning non consentual towing or 'trespass tows'. I am not aware of any law in the state of Connecticut that requires signs to be posted for private property towing. Any clarification you might offer on this would be greatly appreciated.
I can see how it would be upsetting to have your personal vehicle or that of a friends get towed. However, to call it "predatory towing" seems a bit one sided. Trespass towing is offered as a service to property owners. How would any of us feel if we owned a house, parking lot, or an apartment building and people parked their vehicles on it against our wishes? Further, trespass towing allows property owners to have abandoned and junk vehicles removed from their properties. These abandoned vehicles are sometimes left behind by tenants who move away. Another often overlooked benefit to trespass towing is the large quantity of stolen vehicles that are recovered. Trespass towing is easily seen as a benefit to any community when regarded in its entirety.
The tow company is legally obligated to allow a vehicle owner (whose car was towed) access to the contract that allowed said tow to take place during normal office hours. It would seem that the driver gave into your political pressure and pressure from the officers on scene. If Whitey's is unable to provide you with a contract for where the vehicle was towed from then the tow operator is possibly at risk for charges relating to theft of a motor vehicle. I am curious to see how the rest of this story unfolds, if the driver did tow the vehicle illegally he should be held accountable.

-Tow Guy

KEVIN BROOKMAN said...

If a property owner wants to contract, that is one thing. For a tow truck driver to remove a vehicle improperly and illegally and then refuse to give it back, that is predatory. I have spoke to numerous people who have been a victim of such activity and the only way to get their cars back is to pay.

Interestingly, I found the following clause in the Motor Vehicle stautes tonight when I looked into them. Hopefully people will start using this when the tow is in question, and it seems like the towing companies have no choice but to release the vehicles, from section 14-145, "C. To claim the vehicle, proof of ownership may be requested. If the
owner contests the tow, the owner may sign a declaratory statement
that the towed or removed vehicle was taken illegally and the owner
may then take the vehicle without paying any costs."

The questionable practices result in numerous calls for help by tow truck drivers requesting help from the police when the tow's turn violent. This is a recipe for disaster, especially when the tows are improper such as todays incident. I'm sure you as a driver remember a recent incident when the nephew of Mayor Perez assaulted a driver who was towing a vehicle from a private parking lot. Even though that tow appeared to be legal, it still resulted in violence.

Predatory towing in Hartford is nothing new, I can remember 20 years ago or so the problems Spillane's towing caused in Hartford and was the subject of frequent complaints and I think they were eventually shut down. The time for the same thing for Whitey's, CrossCountry and others seems to have come.

And to clarify, the victim today was not a friend or even someone I know. Rather, I was asked to help and I did.

If this type of activity is to continue in Hartford, at the very least it needs to be regulated by local ordinance. Something along the lines of "in-truck" video similar to that in police vehicles would provide an accurate record of where a vehicle was towed from and answer any questions that may arise. Since many of these complaints involve a driver claiming he towed a vehicle from one location while it was actually parked somewhere else, a GPS location should be required for any tow to prove it is legit.

And it is not an issue of political pressure. It is a matter of right and wrong and this driver was clearly wrong

Tow Guy said...

It's my understanding that Whitey's uses in-truck video surveillance as well as GPS. Perhaps they would be willing to produce video if asked? I have personally had many people make the claim that their vehicle was parked somewhere different from where it was towed. Whether the person towed or the tow driver is in the wrong still remains to be seen.
If it is found that the person who was towed was parked illegally and the tow driver was acting in accordance with a valid contract I hope that Whitey's files a civil suit to redeem their lost income from this tow. If the driver is found to be towing cars in a predatory manner I hope the police department takes action against him.

Anonymous said...

Kevin;
Great job, sorry you missed so much of the game, for a stranger yet. I certainly hope that the investigation results not only in training for the officers, but car theft charges as well. These tow truck companies won't stop until the cost becomes too much. Now the question is, will the Courant report this?

Jeff said...

I'm confused Kevin by your description of the contract. Did the contract say it was for the Church but had an address of 7-9 on it instead of 17-19. Or was the contract for another property all together?

Anonymous said...

Brookman for Mayor !!!!!!!!!!!

KEVIN BROOKMAN said...

It was for another property all together, it was for a property at 17-19 Clark Street and signed by an Arthur Teale. It had nothing to do with the church.The driver was reading the address and the contract incorrectly.

That was the most aggravating part, that even after the driver and the police officer realized the mistake, they still were calling it a "civil" matter and initially refused to give the car back

Anonymous said...

TowGuy - If the tow truck took a car from a property for which it had no contract to do trespass towing, then it was clearly an illegal tow. They had no contract to work the Church parking lot, evidently, and admitted that. I am sure you would agree they have no right to tow from a private property if the owner has not contracted them to do so.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Brookman,
The tow truck company would have been criminally charged only at the moment they were informed that they taken possession of the vehicle on a property that they had no contract with, acknowledged this fact and refused to return the vehicle back. Prior to that it was a civil matter.

Reference Larceny Defined 53a-119: section 4, (4) Acquiring property lost, mislaid or delivered by mistake. A person who comes into control of property of another that he knows to have been lost, mislaid, or delivered under a mistake as to the nature or amount of the property or the identity of the recipient is guilty of larceny if, with purpose to deprive the owner thereof, he fails to take reasonable measures to restore the property to a person entitled to it.

KEVIN BROOKMAN said...

We were well beyond that point. The driver had realized his mistake, the police officer acknowledged the vehicle had been towed off the wrong property, yet the driver refused to release the car, and the Police Officer was still maintaining that it was a civil matter.

Only after I called Chief Roberts at home, did the situation quickly resolve itself

Mike Scatena said...

When I do a trespass tow I always take a few pictures of the car improperly parked like attorney K .trantolo (lol )
I still recall him ranting and raving to the west hartford cops till I showed the cops my pics .

Mike scatena