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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you would like, post them here.