Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Dallas constable investigations of illegal towing should be replicated elsewhere in state

Here's an intriguing story out of Dallas where, despite murky details, on the surface the county's position on vehicle towing doesn't seem to pass the smell test. Reported Kevin Krause (whose articles on these subjects have been absolutely first rate):
Accion America, a small Dallas-based group formed to protest restrictive laws proposed in Farmers Branch and Irving, threatened to file a class-action lawsuit against the county on behalf of vehicle owners.

Carlos Quintanilla, the group’s leader, said Friday that [former Constable Jaime] Cortes, who left office last summer, racially profiled Hispanics and essentially stole their vehicles by using his towing contractor, Dowdy Ferry Auto Services, to impound the vehicles.

Most owners, Quintanilla said, were never contacted about where their vehicles were — a violation of state law. By the time some found out, the towing and storage fees were too high for them to claim the vehicles, he said.

“That’s what angers us,” he said. “It’s an atrocity.”

Precinct 5 Constable Beth Villarreal, who defeated Cortes last year and is responsible for the vehicles, had wanted to halt the auctions until she saw paperwork on all of the more than 5,000 vehicles impounded under Cortes.

Dowdy Ferry, however, declined to comply, leading to a stalemate and further delays.
This whole profligate, praetorian saga over towing contracts with Dallas constables just gets uglier with every new twist. It's disgraceful that county commissioners are pushing to sell impounded cars so quickly. It makes it appear that they're more worried about getting their hands on the money than figuring out if the vehicles were taken as part of some kind of scam. Neither the constable nor the towing company can provide any "report showing how many vehicles were towed, how many were claimed, how many were sold and other relevant information." Whether it's from fraud, incompetence or some other reason, that's pretty pathetic.

BTW, I've never met Dallas News reporter Kevin Krause face to face, but IMO he's the best beat journalist covering county government in Texas. Over the last year or so, he's done Dallas a great mitzvah by doggedly pursuing allegations of improprieties in towing contracts, reporting which in part led to the ouster of a couple of Dallas constables. At this point, Kevin's work is so far out on the cutting edge of the topic, I'd like to see him author a how-to piece aimed at other journalists - perhaps published somewhere like the Columbia Journalism Review, or he's always welcome to do a guest post on Grits - to spread the specialized knowledge about how to investigate similar situations in other jurisdictions. The public pays far less attention to counties than city government, and less attention still to constables, who usually fly under everybody's radar. I suspect that, if similarly diligent and skilled reporting tactics were applied in other jurisdictions around the state, such problematic towing contracts - like commissary graft scandals at jails few years back - would turn out to be a recurring problem elsewhere, not just a one-off in Big D.


Anonymous said...

Victim's can file an on-line complaint with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation at


Anonymous said...

Ten Most Common Code Violations Found in Inspections of Vehicle Storage Facilities

Vehicle Storage Facilities
1. Storage Lot Signs – 16 Tex. Admin. Code Ch. 86.1003. Failure to have a sign with all required information.

2. Reasonable Storage Efforts; Impoundment of Stored Vehicles; Impoundment Fees – 16 Tex. Admin. Code Ch. 86.719(c). Collection of impoundment fees without performing required services.

3. Notice of Complaint Procedure – 16 Tex. Admin. Code Ch. 85.707. Failure to provide consumers or document consumers received the Notice of Complaint Procedure.

4. Facilities Fencing Requirements – Security of Vehicles – 16 Tex Admin. Code Ch. 85.1000 (2)(a)&(b). Failure to secure vehicles.

5. Notice to Vehicle Owner or Lien Holder – Tex. Occ. Code Ch. 2303.151 & 16 Tex. Admin. Code Ch. 85.703. Failure to properly notify the vehicle owner or lien holder as required.

6. Facility License Required – Tex. Occ. Code Ch. 2303.101. Operating a vehicle storage facility without the required license.

7. Employee License Required – Tex. Occ. Code Ch. 2303.1015. Working at a vehicle storage facility without the required license.

8. Drug Testing of Employees – Tex. Occ. Code Ch. 2303.160 & 16 Tex. Admin. Code Ch. 85.725. Failure of the license holder to establish a drug testing policy for employees of the vehicle storage facility operated by the license holder. Failure of the license holder to adopt the model drug testing policy adopted by the Commission or use another drug testing policy that the Department determines is at least as stringent as the policy adopted by the Commission.

9. Forms of Payment Accepted – Tex. Occ. Code Ch. 2303.159 & 16 Tex. Admin. Code Ch. 85.711. Failure of the operator of a vehicle storage facility to accept payment by an electronic check, debit card, or credit card for any charge associated with delivery or storage of a vehicle.

10. Vehicle Owner Access – Tex. Occ. Code Ch. 2303.158 & 16 Tex Admin. Code Ch. 85.708. Failure to allow a person claiming to be the owner of a vehicle stored or parked at the facility to have access to the vehicle's glove compartment, console, or other interior storage area if documents necessary to establish the person's identity or ownership of the vehicle are located in the glove compartment, console, or other interior storage area.


Prison Doc said...

"Praetorian"? "Mitzvah"? We better hide your dictionary again.

Nice rhetorical skill.

gravyrug said...

This isn't new at all. I had a car stolen a decade ago, and reported it immediately. It wasn't until almost a year later that I finally got a notice that it had been found and impounded less than a week after I reported it stolen. By that time the impound fees were nearly double the value of the car (okay, so it was an old, worn out car, but still). At least it hadn't already been auctioned. The quick auction part seems to be newer, and from the experience of some friends of mine, driven by the towing companies.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks prison doc.

At the end of my tenure at the Daily Texan, the editor was Mike Godwin, who later became famous for formulating "Godwin's Law." But his quote I most remember (I ran the editorial page part of the time he was editor) regarded the propriety of using unusual vocabulary in popular writing: "Send them to the dictionaries!," he'd cry. It was during that period (thanks to Mike and a fellow named Tom Philpott who now writes for Grist) that I developed a love for etymology and vocabulary.

Writing is supposed to be fun!

Anonymous said...

I do agree that Mr. Krause has done an incredible job investigating the constables gone wild. It took, what, a year or more of investigative reporting to ouster two (2) constables?! lmfao... excuse me while I gather composure here...
exposing basically a car theft ring and widespread harassment. Two constables were behind all of this? LMFAO!! 'scuze me here again...
What surprises me more is that Mr. Krause hasn't been fired (remember Mr. Foster, oh he was just voted out) for all of this because it's quite obvious that they have to have some big boies way up high who are covering their a$$es. I would say by their behaviors and attitudes that they know it too.
Freakin' hilarious.
I personally filed complaints with the Dallas FBI and the Texas Attorney General while being harassed daily by a constable and his goonie squad for years. Overt criminal activity. Come find out this constable was reporting to a Dallas County Prosecutor.
We're talking some scary stuff. Oh, I heard I was "under investigation for drug trafficking". Almost 3 years and they had no evidence of any drug related activities on my part, because I have never so much as sold an aspirin to anyone in my entire life.
I was left wondering if there is any oversight when "investigations" are being conducted, if so by whom, and what are the guidelines. And why are constables used to conduct "investigations" on people for prosecutors? Because there is less oversight IMO?
Yes, great investigative reporting, but too bad no one who can do anything about it cares.

Anonymous said...

If Craig Watkins would have done his job that the taxpayers pay him to do. Alot of this probem could have already been eliminated.
He is so busy prosecuting police officers and Troopers, one has to ask what is connection to Cortez?

Anonymous said...

Someone should take a look at county appraisal districts. There is plenty of room for graft there.

I did some work for the Census Bureau and found a house in a rural area that wasn't listed in my records. A neighbor thought it was funny I had found it and was inquiring about it because it was the home of a county commissioner who preferred that no one knew he had lived there the past five years. I looked at the appraisal district website and the property was listed and taxed as land only. Nice perk there, I must say.

There were other Census situations, where workers consulted in person with the appraisal district in order to discover the ownership of a possibly unoccupied rent house. One worker told me she had four addresses in our downtown area that they said they had no record of whatsoever.

No doubt they must overvalue my house in order to meet their budget!

CenTexBB said...

The type of journalism practiced by Mr. Krause takes enormous courage and determination.

For the moment Austin readers will have to be content with the Statesman winning "the cutest headline" and "best photography" awards that they specialize in. Hopefully, the new Austin Bulldog will win some investigative journalism awards in the near future. Also....the Rag Blog and Thorne Dreyer's Rag Radio on KOOP 91.7 FM are doing some excellent work. Rag Radio can be streamed and it comes in loud and clear.