A Flint, Mich., woman is suing a towing company and the police department after a dramatic vehicle repossession attempt. The wrecker operator allegedly used strong-arm techniques in an attempt to forcibly take the car and called the Flint police, whose presence only seemed to escalate the situation, according to reports. The case has brought to light some of the things repossessors can and cannot do.
According to two lawsuits filed in federal court and reported in the Detroit Free Press, after midnight on August 24 last year, Amika Ward was sitting behind the wheel of a Chevy Captiva purchased by her then-boyfriend, who was accused by Credit Acceptance Corp. of falling behind on his car payments. The company hired Alcar Recovery, a towing company, to repossess the car.
As Ward sat in the parking lot of an apartment complex about to drop off a friend’s birthday gift, a tow truck appeared and hooked up the car. Then two men flanked the car, one on each side. One man demanded Ward sign some paperwork, the other demanded the keys. When she refused to comply, one of the men opened the door, cursed at her and tried to forcibly remove the keys from the ignition, and ultimately hit her in the face and pepper-sprayed her, according to the Freep report.
Ward alleges the repo man then said, “She’s got a gun,” even though she did not. The tow truck driver then got back in his truck and began to drive away, with Ward captive inside the Captiva. Ward said she was frightened because she didn’t know where they were going to take her and what they might do to her. Ward stood on the brakes.
“I felt myself getting hoisted from the back. I’m like, ‘What the heck is going on?'” Ward told the newspaper. “They dragged me through the whole apartment complex. I’m hitting on the brakes so hard, my tires exploded.”
The repo men then called the Flint police, claiming Ward had a firearm. The officers who arrived at the scene allegedly drew their guns at Ward as they approached the car. Ward says she had her hands up and shouted that she did not have a gun. They pulled her out of the car, shoved her to the ground face first, handcuffed her and put her in a police car, the Free Press says. They searched her and the Captiva and found no weapon.
Ward says the police then threatened her with a charge of “resisting a repossession,” which is not a real charge. Ultimately, they let her go. Her ex later made the late payments and took back the car.
“She’s pretty pissed off,” said Ward’s lawyer, Ian Lyngklip. He and other lawyers in the Freep story said it’s illegal to tow a car with someone in it, much less do that in front of police.
He also says that repo companies are not allowed to “disturb the peace,” which includes using or threatening violence. If confronted with a scenario that could escalate, they are supposed to, according to the rules of the repossession industry in Michigan, leave and try again another time.
With more Americans behind and underwater on their car loans, the Freep offers these additional helpful reminders:
- Repo companies are prohibited from taking a car from a locked garage or moving another vehicle to get to the one they’re trying to repossess.
- They also cannot trick you into granting access to the vehicle.
- Perhaps most pertinent to Ward’s case, repo companies cannot use police intervention without a warrant.
Ward filed suit against the towing company in January and against the Flint police this month. Both the City of Flint and Alcar Recovery say they do not comment on cases under litigation.