Civil Liberties

Oregon Cops Illegally Parked Cars, Arrested Tow Truck Employees Who Asked for Proof of Ownership, Lawsuit Alleges

Cops also apparently cursed out a business owner who warned them they were parked illegally


Salem Police Dept

A federal lawsuit filed in Portland, Oregon, accuses officers from the Salem and Keizer police departments and from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of abusing their authority after five of their unmarked police cars were towed and impounded in the course of a stakeout in January 2012.

The cars were parked illegally on a private lot. A local business owner noticed it, and instead of calling a tow truck immediately, he tried to do the courteous thing. It didn't pay off, via The Oregonian:

A business owner noticed unauthorized cars in the lot at 4743 Lancaster Drive NE, the complaint states. The business owner left a note on the windshield and, the next day, spoke personally with one of the drivers who "responded with expletives" that they would not be moving the cars, the lawsuit states.

The driver, presumably, was either one of the undercover cops or someone working for them. It was only after receiving such an anti-social response to such a basic attempt at being polite that the business owner called the property trustee, who called the towing company.

Eventually, a couple of police officers made their way to the towing company to get their unmarked police cars back, BUT:

They were unable to provide license plate or the vehicle ID number or other proof of ownership, the complaint states, but one officer was allowed to retrieve a bag that had his name on it from one of the cars. The two officers left, saying they would return with the necessary information, the complaint states.

Instead, the Oregonian reports, a larger group of cops, in and out of uniform, came into the towing company office:

That's when Sgt. Andrew Roberts flashed his badge at the two tow-truck employees, telling them that it was all the identification he needed to get the cars, the complaint states. The employees soon found themselves arrested and handcuffed in the back of a patrol car.

The lawsuit claims the cops didn't have probable cause for the arrest, and that the towing employees constitutional rights to due process and against unreasonable seizures were violated. The lawsuit also claims Roberts threatened to arrest the lawyer of the detainees for asking questions. The tow truck company fought in court for a year over the incident, and the lawsuit seeks to recoup relevant losses, and asks for $500,000 for each of the two arrested employees for pain and suffering.

The city of Keizer wants the judge to dismiss them from the lawsuit, it claims only one of the cops were from their department and he did nothing wrong. The city of Salem declined to comment to The Oregonian, while there are few details as to the DEA's role in the specific incident or whatever wider investigation the cops were involved in.

h/t Brian L