Cathedral City California Police Officer Showed Up At A Home, Stripped Naked, And Jumped Into Pool Instead of Investigating Noise Complaint

September 30, 2010

CATHEDRAL CITY, CALIFORNIA – The three women lounging in a pool and sipping drinks were surprised to see a uniformed police officer suddenly appear on the patio.

They later told investigators they were stunned as the Cathedral City officer unbuckled his gun belt, unbuttoned his shirt, dropped his pants and underwear and jumped into the pool.

“We just couldn’t believe he was actually getting into the pool,” one of the women told The Desert Sun on Wednesday.

The couple who own the house, as well as their two friends, filed a complaint with the Cathedral City Police Department early Wednesday, claiming the on-duty officer who responded to a neighbor’s noise complaint ended up naked in the pool.
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A police spokesman declined to comment on the specifics of the complaint, but confirmed the department placed an officer on paid leave Wednesday while he is investigated for misconduct.

The department has also asked the Riverside County district attorney to conduct a criminal investigation, Lt. Chuck Robinson said.

Police say that an initial call was received at 3:45 a.m. from someone complaining about noise in the 35-000 block of Maria Road.

Fifteen minutes later, police received a call about an officer in the pool.

The Desert Sun interviewed the couple who own the home and one of the women who was in the pool. They asked not to be identified because they say they are embarrassed and because they had been told by detectives to keep a low profile while the investigation is ongoing.

They said the wife and two female friends were in the pool when the officer came to the door.

The husband, 37, said he answered the door and was told by the officer he needed to investigate the noise complaint. The man said the officer walked through the house to the pool.

The women, who said they had been drinking, said they chatted with the officer briefly and joked that he should join them.

They say he then stripped, left his holstered gun on a poolside table, and jumped into the pool.

The officer followed the women around the pool, flirtatiously “playing footsy” for about 10 minutes, the husband said.

Asked by a Desert Sun reporter what the women were wearing, one of the women said, “We had bottoms on … and tops.”

The husband said he was so troubled by the officer’s presence that he considered picking up the gun and ordering the officer to leave. But he decided against it because he didn’t want to escalate the situation with four children sleeping inside the house.

Instead, he said he ran to the front of the house, scrawled the license plate number of the patrol car onto his forearm and called 911. “I thought maybe someone would show up and see him inside the pool,” the man said.

When the officer heard the call on his police radio, he jumped out of the water, grabbed his clothes and ran back to his car, according to the wife and one of her friends.

The husband said he took photos of the officer on his camera phone while he was in the pool.

He said the phone, as well as three towels that had been out by the pool, were taken by an investigator with the district attorney’s office.

The officer — who police declined to identify — is the third Cathedral City police officer to be placed on paid leave in 11 days.

One officer is on administrative leave after he shot and killed a man during a confrontation on Sept. 19.

A second officer is on leave after a Monday shooting that police call an attempted “suicide by cop.”

Robinson said the department is committed to thoroughly investigating the complaint.

“Once the truth has been determined, we will take the appropriate action,” Robinson said. “It’s a public trust issue and the public’s got to know that we’ll police our own, and we’ll do it appropriately.”

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Crazed Feds Demand New York City Spend $28 Million Changing Street Name Signs From All Caps To Lowercase

September 30, 2010

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – Federal copy editors are demanding the city change its 250,900 street signs — such as these for Perry Avenue in The Bronx — from the all-caps style used for more than a century to ones that capitalize only the first letters.

Changing BROADWAY to Broadway will save lives, the Federal Highway Administration contends in its updated Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, citing improved readability.

At $110 per sign, it will also cost the state $27.6 million, city officials said.

“We have already started replacing the signs in The Bronx,” city Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan told The Post. ‘We will have 11,000 done by the end of this fiscal year, and the rest finished by 2018.”
$27 million to turn PERRY AV into Perry Av
$27 million to turn PERRY AV into Perry Av

It appears e.e. cummings was right to eschew capital letters, federal officials explain.

Studies have shown that it is harder to read all-caps signs, and those extra milliseconds spent staring away from the road have been shown to increase the likelihood of accidents, particularly among older drivers, federal documents say.

The new regulations also require a change in font from the standard highway typeface to Clearview, which was specially developed for this purpose.

As a result, even numbered street signs will have to be replaced.

“Safety is this department’s top priority,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said last year, in support of the new guidelines. “These new and updated standards will help make our nation’s roads and bridges safer for drivers, construction workers and pedestrians alike.”

The Highway Administration acknowledged that New York and other states “opposed the change, and suggested that the use of all upper-case letters remain an option,” noting that “while the mixed-case words might be easier to read, the amount of improvement in legibility did not justify the cost.”

To compensate for those concerns, in 2003, the administration allowed for a 15-year

phase-in period ending in 2018.

Although the city did not begin replacing the signs until earlier this year, Sadik-Khan said they will have no trouble meeting the deadline, as some 8,000 signs a year are replaced annually simply due to wear and tear.

The new diminutive signs, which will also feature new reflective sheeting, may also reflect a kinder, gentler New York, she said.

“On the Internet, writing in all caps means you are shouting,” she said. “Our new signs can quiet down, as well.”

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Pinal County Arizona Deputy Sheriff And Sheriff Paul Babeu Are Pretty Much Full Of Shit

September 30, 2010

PINAL COUNTY, ARIZONA – Experts are now seriously questioning Pinal County Sheriff’s Deputy Louie Puroll’s much-hyped tale of being shot by drug smugglers in a remote part of the Arizona desert. But even if every detail of Puroll’s story is true, it still does not square with many of the claims the Sheriff’s office has peddled about the case.

The department says the original criminal investigation “had concluded and the facts of the case confirmed the accounts of the event as Deputy Puroll described.” And though the case has now been reopened, Babeu told local news this week that he “absolutely” still believes his deputy. Beside Puroll and his alleged attackers, who were never found, there were no other witnesses to the event.

But in the immediate aftermath of the April incident, and to this day, Sheriff Paul Babeu and the department have made statements about the event that clash with the recorded account that Puroll gave to detectives on May 6, and which was released to the public in early July (audio here). These statements have included exaggerations and unverified information, and have been repeated often by Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu as his national profile has grown as a voice on border security. Some of the claims have been walked back. Others have not.
Claim: The assailants were members of a Mexican drug cartel

While the April incident made headlines around the country in the context of the debate over immigration and border security, Puroll himself never suggested that his assailants were Mexican or illegal immigrants. The area Puroll was in is a known corridor for traffickers and undocumented border crossers, and the Sheriff’s office told TPM they know cartels operate in the area. But Puroll told detectives that he only got a look at the facial features of one of the men he was tracking that day, and only in profile, through binoculars.

“I remember thinking to myself, that man is an Indian, he’s probably not a Mexican smuggler. I remember thinking that because that’s what he looked like,” Puroll told detectives.

But that’s not what the department told the public.

On April 30, CNN reported: “The Pinal County deputy, who was not immediately identified, contacted authorities after being wounded in the desert, saying he had been shot by an illegal immigrant with an AK-47, said Lt. Tammy Villar, a sheriff’s spokeswoman.”

That night, Babeu was interviewed on local news. He said he had spoken to Puroll firsthand about the incident, and said Puroll ” gave a description, as ‘five Hispanic males.'”

Villar told TPM that some media reports suggesting Mexican persons of interest had been detained cited her and the department erroneously. She also said that when she spoke to Puroll after the incident, he asked her, “Where are people getting that these are Mexican nationals?” (Puroll went back to work 3 days after the incident, but has not yet spoken to the media. The Sheriff’s Office told TPM he is waiting for the end of an internal investigation on advice of his lawyer.)

It would seem people are getting that from the sheriff. As recently as Tuesday, Babeu was on Fox News saying that “one of my deputies, as you know, was ambushed — was shot by six members of a Mexican drug cartel.”

When TPM asked Villar how the Sheriff could know definitively that the suspects were Mexican cartel members, she responded, “I can’t answer that,” and then, “I would have the same question.”

Pinal County Public Information Officer Tim Gaffney first told TPM that the department had information from a “federal law enforcement source developed during this case and another subsequent case where two individuals were shot in the desert that those individuals working the area are tied to drug cartels from Mexico.” When asked what specifically tied that to the Puroll case, Gaffney said “The reason we feel that they were in fact members of the drug cartel is because of the witness/victim accounts from individuals in the area told us as much. We have also gotten information from other agencies that is law enforcement sensitive that has also confirmed this information.”

TPM’s requested a direct comment from the sheriff on the matter, but one was not provided.
Claim: Smugglers fired at law enforcement helicopters

In the early reports of the incident, various news outlets cited the Sheriff’s department saying that law enforcement helicopters responding to the scene took fire from the suspects. A report first published on April 30 by KPHO.com quotes Villar: “We had helicopters up in the air. They were taking gunfire from the suspects as well. They had to pull out.”

A few days after the incident, The Arizona Republic reported that the Arizona National Guard told the media:

a clipboard or other metal object within the aircraft apparently fell to the floor, causing a clattering noise. Crew members were at first unclear about the source of the noise and put out an alert that there might be gunfire in the area. During a debriefing, Castillo said, the crew realized what caused the confusion.

Villar said the clarification never reached Sheriff Paul Babeu, who told the media of a helicopter coming under fire during news briefings.

But the National Guard only took responsibility for the confusion over one helicopter taking fire. When TPM asked Villar how she came to tell media that several helicopters had sustained fire she wrote in an email:

when the helicopter pilot (mind you there was more than 1 in the air) reported he had taken fire…….he didn’t immediately identify himself to our incident commander……we had more than one and did not know which one was taking fire…..They means….there were more than 1 and we did not know who was……I could have better stated- one of the helicopters has reported they (again they) were taking fire……it is a matter of semantics that had been later clarified numerous times.

Claim: Puroll was “ambushed”

In his account of the incident, Puroll said the following:

That man stood up in front of me, about 25 yards away… When he first stood up, he did not see me, initially. He did not come up ready to shoot. I don’t believe he knew I was there, until he actually saw me. When he stood up his weapon was in his right hand down by his side pointed at the ground. He stood up, he was looking at the ground. Then he raised his head and looked up and he saw me.

Puroll’s account suggests he surprised the men he was tracking. Yet Babeu has repeatedly described the incident as an “ambush.”

In an article posted April 30, KPHO.com reported Babeu saying, “One of them stayed in the rear, took cover. That person popped up and started firing rounds at our deputy.”

The case has been at the center of his argument that the tactics of drug smugglers have changed recently, that they have become more violent and organized. (An argument he made in a recent interview with TPM.)

On August 2, Babeu appeared on Fox News and told Sean Hannity: “This is America, and we have armed paramilitary squad-sized elements coming through our county every day and every night, and they even ambushed one of my deputies.”

Expanding on Babeu’s argument that the attack used “paramilitary” tactics, Gaffney told TPM that “when the shooting began these individuals were spread out much like tactics learned and practiced in the military.” But according to Puroll:

Everything occurred here within a 25 or 30 yard circle at most. I don’t think those people who were shooting could actually see me, ’cause the rounds were all cracking in air above my head. Nothing struck ’round me close in the dirt or anything like that.

Claim: A large amount of marijuana was recovered at the site

On May 1, The Arizona Republic reported that “Babeu said Puroll was tracking the smugglers, who left behind large quantities of marijuana.” Puroll said he suspected the men he was following were drug smugglers, and he said that five of the six men he saw that day were carrying large backpacks — but no evidence was ever recovered.

On May 3, Babeu appeared on Greta Van Susteren’s show on Fox News and said that Puroll “found some actual backpacks of marijuana and some other suspicious activity.”

The New Times’ Paul Rubin reports that at a press conference on May 4, Babeu “conceded that some information released by his agency in the hours after the incident was inaccurate.” Among the corrected errors Rubin lists: “That the smugglers left behind “bales” of marijuana as they fled. Authorities confiscated no contraband.”

Gaffney told TPM that “Deputy Puroll was following the smugglers to see where they would leave the marijuana they were backpacking. We have evidence bays stuffed full of the backpacks that we seize every week. It is common practice for smugglers to backpack the marijuana through Pinal County and then leave it in a location until it is picked up. Deputy Puroll reported this as well that he was following them to see where they would leave it.”

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Bogus Murder Charge Dropped After Farmington Hills Michigan Prosecutors Read Autopsy Report

September 30, 2010

FARMINGTON HILLS, MICHIGAN – Prosecutors who received an unexpected autopsy result dropped a murder charge Wednesday against a woman who had been accused of killing her ailing husband as a result of a botched at-home medical procedure.

Authorities cautioned, however, that Laura Johnson isn’t in the clear. They plan to take hospital records and autopsy results to experts for another opinion on the strange death of lawyer Lloyd Johnson.

Nonetheless, the dismissal of charges was a victory for Laura Johnson, a week after her 47-year-old husband died at a suburban Detroit hospital.

“We’re relieved it’s over,” defense attorney John Williams said as he accompanied Johnson on a courthouse elevator.

Johnson, 46, declined to comment as she dabbed her eyes and walked with a cane.

Police found a large pool of blood in Lloyd Johnson’s bed, as well as surgical gear and jars of suspected human tissue in the couple’s home. The Oakland County prosecutor last week filed charges of second-degree murder, manslaughter and unlawful practice of medicine against his widow.

But on Tuesday medical examiner L.J. Dragovic said Johnson’s death was not a homicide. He said it was an accident due to an open wound on his lower back from an old boating injury that hadn’t healed. Dragovic noted other factors: Johnson weighed 413 pounds and had diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cirrhosis and other ailments.

In asking a judge to dismiss the charges, assistant prosecutor Paul Walton explained why they were filed. He said Lloyd Johnson, although unable to speak, nodded affirmatively when asked at Botsford Hospital if his wife had performed surgery on him.

“The patient’s father, mother as well as son believe that the wife is trying to intentionally harm the patient by … giving him extra medication as well as performing unnecessary procedures,” Walton said, quoting a medical report.

Laura Johnson told one of Lloyd Johnson’s children that she thought she had killed him, Walton said.

Outside court, the prosecutor said he doesn’t believe Laura Johnson intended to kill her husband but the second-degree murder charge is appropriate when authorities find a “disregard for human life.”

Walton said it’s sometimes filed, for example, in cases of death caused by a drunken driver.

“You have a victim that has compromised health,” Walton said of Lloyd Johnson. “You have an individual who has committed some type of act that furthers the deterioration of health. … There was a tremendous amount of loss of blood.”

Johnson’s lawyer has said she had provided wound care for two years and was “vindicated” by the medical examiner’s findings.

Walton addressed criticism that the prosecutor’s office was too quick to charge Laura Johnson before the autopsy results were in. He said police had much evidence and authorities also were concerned about her fleeing with her two young sons. She was arrested at a school last week.

“That starts the clock ticking for us,” Walton said.

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Innocent Deaf Man Released From Prison After Being Railroaded By Richardson Texas Police Department

September 29, 2010

RICHARDSON, TEXAS – A deaf Texas man, who was imprisoned for years for a sexual crime, was released from a Texas jail Tuesday after a judge exonerated him on Monday based on new evidence.

Stephen Brodie was convicted of the 1990 sexual assault of a 5-year-old girl largely based on his confession rather than physical evidence, CNN-affiliate KTXA reported.

But new evidence emerged — a fingerprint at the crime scene from a different man who has since been convicted of a sexual crime against an underage teen.

On Monday, Brodie was in a Dallas courtroom where Judge Lena Levario ruled that he would be released, the judge’s clerk told CNN.

Brodie told KTXA that he was harassed by police and confessed to the crime to get them to leave him alone. At some points during the investigation, he was interrogated without a interpreter present, the affiliate reported.

“I felt like I was taken advantage of because I am deaf,” Brodie told the affiliate in a jailhouse interview where he spoke through a sign language interpreter.

A spokesman for Richardson police, the department that arrested Brodie, told KTXA that the department did a thorough and competent investigation.

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Unattended Bags Get Airport Officials Panties In A Bind – But Not Two Heavily Armed Men In Black

September 27, 2010

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – Just before 3 p.m. Saturday, a white Chevy Blazer pulled up to the arrival curb outside Terminal A at Mineta San Jose International Airport. Two men dressed in black parked the SUV, switched on its hazard lights and approached the information desk to inquire about American Airlines Flight 1205 from Dallas. Both carried assault rifles strapped across their chests, with handguns in their holsters.

A volunteer at the desk politely told them the plane was due at 3:02 p.m. And another volunteer asked one of the armed men, “Are you one of the people who ride on the plane” looking for terrorists? “No,” he replied.

Then the pair casually waited near the escalator that ferries travelers to the luggage carousels.

“I wondered if they were going to shoot somebody coming off the plane,” one volunteer said. She resolved to dive under her desk if that happened.

Still, she was worried. “I didn’t know if this was proper, if people are allowed to walk into an airport with assault rifles and just stand there.”

It appears that airport travelers that day either figured the pair’s mission was benign, or perhaps thought they were part of a ninja movie. San Jose police said they received no calls inquiring about the men with rifles.

Simply leaving a bag unattended for a few minutes can cause airport security guards to panic. But apparently it isn’t illegal to carry weapons into the nonsecure areas of Mineta San Jose Airport — or most other U.S.
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airports.

The two volunteers — who asked not to be named because airport officials did not give them permission to speak publicly — said they were unsure what to do.

After 15 years of assisting in the terminal, they said, they know what to do when someone loses an ATM card (call 911), when passengers’ rides don’t show up (lend them a cell phone) and when handed prohibited carry-on items (mail the items to the passengers’ homes). But they had received no training on how to handle heavily armed visitors.

A parking control officer at the airport asked his supervisor what he should do.

The response, according to one of the volunteers: “Next time that happens, have one of them sit in the car while the other one comes in.” The airport prohibits unattended cars at the curb, especially under the current orange alert level.

Soon, the armed pair greeted another man wearing a baseball cap after he descended the escalator. Together they picked up about a half-dozen pieces of luggage, loaded them into the white SUV and drove off.

It turns out the men with the assault rifles were from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and were meeting another security staffer returning from assignment, lab spokesman Don Johnston said.

San Jose police and airport officials, who were unaware of the armed greeting until questioned by the Mercury News on Sunday, said protocol is for a law enforcement agency to give notice when sending armed personnel into another agency’s jurisdiction, according to police Lt. Mike Sullivan.

An airport videotape showed the men in the baggage area for seven or eight minutes, airport spokesman David Vossbrink said.

Johnston said that it isn’t unusual, especially on weekends, for Lawrence security guards to meet personnel at airports. And yes, he said, the security staff members dress in what police call “battle dress uniforms”: dark clothing with logos that are difficult to see.

In a flurry of phone calls Sunday afternoon, San Jose police and the U.S. Department of Energy worked out a clear notification protocol, Sullivan said.

That left one of the volunteers relieved, yet incredulous.

“I couldn’t believe,” she said, “that man was so valuable it took two men with assault rifles to escort him to Livermore.”

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Chicago Heights Illinois Police Want Cash From Woman For Bogus Fees After Police Let Her Drunk Boyfriend Drive Off With 5 Year Old In Car – Crash 1 Hour Latter Killed Her Child

September 27, 2010

CHICAGO HEIGHTS, ILLINOIS – As Kathie LaFond’s son was dying in a car crash, she was under arrest at
the nearby Chicago Heights police station, where she was told to sign
forms saying her Chevy had been towed.

She would soon learn that her car was actually wrapped around a tree, her 5-year-old son dead at the scene.

Weeks after the boy’s funeral, the south suburb ordered LaFond to pay a
$550 fine for the impound that never occurred, records show.

It was an unusually aggressive take on a trend in law enforcement to
collect fees from arrests involving vehicles. And the ensuing debate
over LaFond’s fee offers another chapter in a high-profile controversy
in which Chicago Heights police let an allegedly drunken man drive
LaFond’s only child to his death.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” LaFond said. “My car was never impounded that
night. Why should I have to pay for something that took my kid’s life
away?”

The fees themselves aren’t unusual, but carry their own controversy. A
recent Tribune investigation found that more than 100 area departments
charge administrative fees — often $500 or more — for impounding
vehicles allegedly used in crimes. After a federal judge questioned the
constitutionality of some tows, a third of the suburbs softened their
laws to let friends or relatives drive cars from arrest scenes, instead
of being towed.

In those cases where friends or relatives drive cars away, no fees are charged because no tow happened.

At least, that’s what happens in the other suburbs surveyed by the Tribune.

But not in Chicago Heights.

Even though its forms say the fee is for impounding, the city says the
fee is really for the arrest. It’s considered a separate sanction for
any vehicle owner whose car is tied to specific crimes, ranging from
soliciting a prostitute to driving on a suspended license.

The goal, officials say, is to collect cash for the blue-collar suburb while keeping criminals at bay.

“It’s a way of trying to discipline people for the commissions of
wrongdoing regardless of whether the car is towed or not,” said TJ
Somer, the suburb’s corporation counsel.

To LaFond’s lawyer, Mark Horwitz, the policy seems purely about
collecting cash, not only from people never towed, but even from someone
such as LaFond, whose child died from the alleged negligence of the
department.

“The thing I find repulsive is: You have a child who is dead. You have a
mother who lost her child,” he said. “Yet you have a municipality
sending a bill out when they clearly know that car was never impounded.
It hit a tree.”

A boy’s death

LaFond, 23, was arrested early one morning in May on Chicago Heights’
Main Street for driving on a suspended license. The stop began a series
of events that led to her son’s death less than an hour later.

Her boyfriend, Cecil Conner, then 22, needed a ride home from a
party. She said she didn’t want him driving drunk. So, with no one to
baby-sit her son, Michael Langford Jr.,

she strapped him into his booster seat and drove to retrieve Conner.

On their way to drop off Conner at his Steger home, she was stopped
about 2:35 a.m. by a Chicago Heights officer for not using a turn
signal. Discovering she wasn’t properly licensed, the officer arrested
her for a crime that qualified her car to be towed to an impound lot.

The conversation that took place during that stop is now at the heart of a lawsuit LaFond filed against the suburb.

She said she begged the officer not to let Conner drive the car because
he was drunk. The suburb maintains LaFond made no such plea and the
officer had no indication Conner was drunk, so he was allowed to drive
away.

LaFond was taken away in handcuffs to the police station. That was
common procedure area-wide for handling drivers with suspended or
revoked licenses. But what happened next wasn’t.

After Conner drove off with the boy, LaFond sat in the station in her
grocery store uniform, at times handcuffed to a wooden bench. She was
there until police decided to release her on her promise to show up in
court to face the criminal charge.

It’s unclear exactly when she left, but before she could go she had to
sign a few forms, including at least one indicating her car had been
impounded, and thereby qualified for the $500 fee.

LaFond said that as she left, she heard sirens — apparently rescue crews
heading two miles south into Steger, where Conner had veered their
Cavalier into a tree.

Rescue crews found the child lifeless. Reports show that Conner
slurred his words and smelled of alcohol. A hospital lab later
determined his blood-alcohol level was 2 1/2 times the legal limit,
prompting his arrest for felony DUI charges.

An unusual policy

Although the tragedy became headline news across the region, the
impoundment forms from her arrest were treated like those of any other
case, Somer said.

LaFond wasn’t the first made to sign such forms without having a vehicle
towed. The Tribune found that during that same month, of the 152
charged impound fees, seven others hadn’t had their cars towed.

Michael Kellogg was one of them — pulled over for driving on a suspended
license. He said his wife, a licensed driver, drove the car away. He
appealed the fine to the suburb’s administrative hearing officer without
success.

“He (the hearing officer) said everybody pays for an impounded car,”
Kellogg said. “Now it’s in collections, and I have to pay it in
payments.”

That’s unlike any other town surveyed by the Tribune.

Officials elsewhere justify the fees as a way to recover police costs of
arrests that involve time-consuming tows. If there’s no tow, there’s no
fee.

Chicago Heights, however, views the $500 fee as a fine, Somer said. The tow is irrelevant. To handle the costs of processing the arrest, the suburb can tack on another $50 fee.

It’s unclear how much the town has collected from these no-tow impounds.
Comparable data was available only for May, showing about 5 percent of
the impound cases didn’t involve a tow. If the suburb averaged eight
cases a month for a year, it could collect $48,000, assuming it charged
just $500 fees.

But the $500 fees are doubled if two crimes are alleged from the same
arrest. That’s what happened to Jim Reichert, whose granddaughter’s
boyfriend was arrested in March for drunken driving and driving on a
suspended license in Reichert’s SUV.

The SUV wasn’t towed — the granddaughter drove it away — but Reichert got a bill in the mail.

The Crete man reluctantly paid the $1,000 fine, plus a $50 administrative fee.

“It sounds like a scam,” he said.

The $550 bill

On the back of an impound form LaFond signed, it said she had 15 days to
file an appeal. If not, she’d automatically be found liable for the
$500 fee.

When she didn’t respond, the suburb’s hearing officer automatically found her in default.

Somer said it was not out of malice, but merely standard procedure in
such cases. The unpaid debt, as is routine, was sent to a collection
agency. He said the suburb sympathizes with LaFond’s loss, but the law
is the law.

“Kathie LaFond, number one, went to collections because she never showed
up for the hearing she was given notice of and defended herself,” Somer
said.

LaFond’s lawyer also believes it’s not out of malice. Still, he said, it
doesn’t make it right, not only for LaFond but for others charged fees
without being towed.

“I don’t think they’re piling up on Kathie per se. I just think this is an incident where they got caught.”

LaFond said she was so eager to get out of the station that night in May
she never read what she was signing. In the aftermath of dealing with
her loss, she hadn’t read the forms since. She said she didn’t even know
the suburb was trying to collect cash from her until told this month by
the Tribune.

She is awaiting a November court date on the criminal portion of the
suspended-license arrests in Chicago Heights and an earlier one in
Olympia Fields, misdemeanors that can carry their own fines or jail
time. Conner remains jailed in Will County, awaiting trial on the felony
DUI charges.

LaFond said she has yet to get a bill demanding the $550. It’s unclear
if Conner, as a co-owner of the Cavalier, has gotten a letter either —
his lawyers did not return calls for comment. But LaFond is the only one
of the pair listed in Chicago Heights records as owing the money.

No matter what happens, she said she won’t pay any bill.

The suburb said it’s not sure what action the collection agency will
take, but it won’t drop the fine. Somer said it’s up to LaFond and her
lawyers to ask a judge to make the suburb drop it.

But Somer said that the Tribune review of its no-tow fee policy has prompted one change.

Chicago Heights will rewrite the forms to note the fee applies even to those not towed.

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