SALEM, Ore. (AP/KOIN) — The owner and two employees of a Salem towing company are suing three law enforcement agencies for $5 million, accusing them of wrongfully arresting workers who refused to release undercover police cars that were registered under fictitious names.
The complaint was filed Sept. 19 in federal court by the men from Bales and Brady Towing West. It names the Salem and Keizer police departments, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and six officers.
The Statesman Journal reports three cars were towed in January 2012 from a private parking lot.
According to a federal lawsuit, the property owner — unaware of the undercover operation — left a note for the drivers about the lot’s “no parking” policy but found the note crumpled up and on the ground. So the next day, when the same cars were parked there again, the cars were towed.
“The problem was they had all these vehicles registered in fictitious names,” said attorney Kevin Lafky. He’s representing Bales and Brady Towing and two of its employees. “It’s understandable from a law enforcement perspective. It’s also understandable that the towing company can’t just hand over vehicles without some proof or something in writing.”
The towing company refused to release them to police because police could not provide proof of ownership.
Lafky says his clients were arrested while on the phone awaiting instruction from their boss. Police then took the keys and removed the cars.
The two towing workers were booked, and charged with obstructing government administration. However, they were exonerated by a jury earlier this year.
“We just feel like it was a pretty flagrant government misuse of power that needs to be rectified in the court system,” Lafky said.
Lafky said $5 million in damages is for emotional distress and violations of Constitutional rights. KOIN 6 News attempted to reach Salem-Keizer police and other related law enforcement. However, they said either “no comment” or did not return calls.
– Information from the Statesman Journal with additional details from KOIN 6 News’ Reporter Jessica Morkert in Salem, Ore.
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