Tue | Jul 7, 2020

Man awarded $3m after cops seize, sell car

Published:Sunday | May 31, 2020 | 12:13 AMErica Virtue - Senior Gleaner Writer

Michael Thompson tried on several occasions to prove that he was the legitimate owner of a 2006 Toyota Allion motor car that was involved in an accident in 2016 and was in the custody of the Constant Spring police.

After the vehicle was seized, he began collecting duplicate documents for licensing, insurance, and tax as he waited for the court process to follow. After securing a lawyer, in November 2017, he made the first ownership claim.

“I went again in January 2018. I explained [the matter] to a policeman, who told me that I could get the car on bond, meaning that I would have to present it for exhibit when the case comes up, but it would be in my custody. That didn’t happen either. I went again in February, and nothing,” he said.

His attorney, Lamar Neale, wrote to the police commissioner, the Constant Spring police, and the attorney general, stating ownership and asking that the car be immediately released.

There was no response.

“Nobody wanted to accompany me to the vehicle so they could check off the documents against the duplicates that I had and also for me to activate the alarm system,” he said dejectedly.

In May 2018, while browsing the classifieds in The Gleaner, he received a shock when he came across a vehicle with the chassis and VIN of his car being advertised for auction organised by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).

He then headed to the police station, again telling officers there that he was the owner of the vehicle.

“I told them I am not lost, so my car should not be auctioned,” Thompson recalled in a Sunday Gleaner interview.

His luck, however, did not change.

One Sunday in August 2018 – a week before the auction date – on reaching the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Molynes Road, Thompson saw a black Ford wrecker heading toward Six Miles. It was carrying two vehicles. One was his.

“I called my lawyer in panic and made a U-turn and headed to Constant Spring Police Station. I knew the space where my car was because I would just drive there to see if it was there. When I went there, the space was empty,” Thompson said.

When he queried the whereabouts of the vehicle, Thompson said the cops were more focused on expressing their displeasure about the letter written by his lawyer than on assisting him to prove ownership.

Despite Thompson and his lawyer’s efforts, the JCF proceeded with the sale.

SUED THE GOVERNMENT

Last year, Thompson sued the Government and judgment was granted in his favour on February 7, 2020.

The government’s defence was that the certified documents did not prove ownership.

The judge disagreed.

The court ordered special damages of $4,500 with interest at three per cent from September 4, 2018, to the date of judgment, and general damages of $2.9 million at three per cent from November 13, 2018, to February 2020.

Now, taxpayers will have to foot the $3-million bill, but it is a sum that is unlikely to be paid before the 2021-2022 financial year as it was not factored into the current Budget.

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck sought to explain the delay.

“In my time, once it is settled and signed off by the attorney general’s office, the Ministry of Justice pays promptly,” he told The Sunday Gleaner. “The problem is, however, that many, if not most, matters are not really completed, as after the court rules, there are still many more documents to be filed.”

The process may be further prolonged if the Government appeals, Chuck said.

However, Neale is adamant that the issue should not have escalated to 2020.

“This should have been settled long before even before I became involved. It is because no one listened to him, that’s why I was brought in,” he said. “And no one listened to us, so the matter ended up in court, and that is where we finally got someone to listen to us. Now taxpayers will bear the cost because no one listened.”

Thompson agreed.

“Where we are now never needed to happen. And still after all the efforts I made, they sold the car, and God knows when I will get back the money to buy a new car,” he stated.

Up to press time, the police had not responded to Sunday Gleaner queries on the process between a car coming into its custody and it being auctioned.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com