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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Urgent Portland Predatory Towing Alert! Sergeant's Towing running tow scam on public property!

Tow scam targets wheelchair users, persons with legal disability placards!
McCall’s Waterfront Park is scene of tow heists!

By Sean Cruz

For the past year or more, Sergeant’s Towing has been running a towing scam in plain sight in front of the former McCall’s Restaurant at Waterfront Park.

The notorious patrol towing company has been taking vehicles from the publicly-owned parking lot with no contract or authority from the City of Portland to do so.

The City of Portland has just determined that a Portland man, whose wheelchair-enabled van was towed from the McCalls lot by a Sergeant’s tow thug, will get his money back.

Sergeant’s driver took the vehicle knowing he was leaving someone in a wheelchair without his vehicle!

That’s what is so egregious about this particular towing scam—it targets people in wheelchairs (but not just in wheelchairs!)!

The McCall’s lot contains several spaces reserved for vehicles marked with disabled placards, and a small forest of Sergeant’s signs that appear to be posted deliberately to confuse the public.

Some of the Sergeant’s signs posted throughout the lot state that a disability placard AND a McCall’s Restaurant permit must both be visible on the vehicle.

But McCall’s Restaurant has been closed for more than a year! There ARE no McCall’s Restaurant permits!

The predatory patrol towing victim parked in the lot on a Sunday afternoon intending to take a brisk wheel around the park. He parked his van in a space where the sign states that both the disability placard AND McCall’s permit must be displayed.

But McCall’s was an empty building! It was a Sunday! He’s been in a wheelchair for more than 15 years! The van has a wheelchair lift!

The reason that none of these facts were a deterrent was because he was precisely the sort of “customer” the scam is designed to snare!

Sergeant’s has no contract or authority to post its signs or tow vehicles from that parking lot.

That is a measure of the arrogance one finds rampant among patrol towers.

Anyone whose vehicle was towed from McCall’s in the past year should contact the City about getting your money back.

One wonders where else Sergeant’s is pulling these scams.

Many thanks to Tim Barrett for bulldogging this case to a successful conclusion.

Oregonians (and visitors to the state) owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Barrett for providing Senator Gordly’s office with his research on patrol towing in other states prior to the 2007 Legislative Session.

That information, which included the 9th U.S. Circuit Court’s ruling upholding California’s ban on patrol towing, gave us the legal foundation for Senate Bill 431 and Senate Bill 116. Both bills passed on unanimous votes.

The Circuit’s Court’s language is now embodied in Oregon Statute as Section 1 of Senate Bill 116 (2007).

As you can see, there remains some legislative work yet to be done regarding predatory patrol towing.

The accompanying photos of the McCall’s parking lot were taken by Sean Cruz the day after the wheelchair-enabled van was towed.


artsasinic said...

Last time I checked, Oregon law states that anyone with a handicap permit can park in any handicap slot. That sign wouldn't have been legal even if the restaurant was still open

Tim Barrett said...

I hope the Portland Tribune and the Mercury pick up on this scoop.

Not surprisingly, this furthers my position that 'predatory' or even 'parking lot infraction' tow companies with agreements with 'property owners' will often see these properties as permanent HARVESTING GROUNDS. It seems almost as if they believe that they have negotiated never-ending mineral rights for a property (in the form of vehicle harvesting rights), and that property remains in their control, regardless of how many times the 'property ownership' has changed or if property ownership on record even exists anymore.

These agreements, called "Patrol Towing Agreements", authorize the tow company to make tow decisions in the name of the property owner - despite the fact that the statutes seem to clearly differentiate between 'owner' and 'tower', and grant rights and responsibilities to each of those titles/persons separately. Often the towing company will suggest or impose their own parking restrictions into the agreement with the property owner, likely from pecuniary motivations, to increase the number of 'infractions' they can use to justify a tow. The practice has many names; "Patrol Towing", "PPI", "Private Property Impound", "Surveillance Towing", and "Trespass Towing".

A more disturbing part is that often the 'property owner' does not know or is not exposed to the decisions the tow company is making in his/her name - for MONTHS or perhaps YEARS at a time! I would suggest that the purpose of the law was to allow a property owner to order the removal a vehicle that is unsafe, a hazard, or in some way the vehicle is injurious (even if only a nuisance) to the property owner. How the tow companies have injected themselves into this so completely is a bit baffling to me, in that the tow company itself decides what is 'injurious' to the property owner. When a dispute arises over a tow, the 'tower' claims "the property owner said so [by patrol towing agreement], so we towed it", and when the vehicle owner then contacts the property owner they are told "No! I did not authorize that tow, the tow company takes care of that". Each of them, the tower and the property owner, point fingers at the other as to who's responsible for a tow or a 'bad tow'. Neither claim responsibility, both have authority (or claim delegated authority). And by the way, these "Patrol Towing Agreements" are mysteriously just there, no you're not allowed to see one or get a copy of it, or see exactly WHO authorized the tow company to act in their name. Try asking to see one sometime, the response from the tow company will often be beligerant in a nearly-professional tone and will likely tell you "I'm under no obligation to show you a copy".

So the next time you're towed and wonder if the agreement between the property owner and the tow company is 1 or 2 or 27 years outdated, or invalid because the property ownership has changed hands 6 times and a new agreement was never signed... just know, that's top secret information, and you have no need to know.

In other words, the mindset of some tow companies is; 'You were towed for an infraction because we had authority to act for the property owner, and that authority just exists and is not for you to question. We said so.'

Tim Barrett
Tow victim advocate since 2006

Tim Barrett said...

To artsasinic: The tow company argument was... That spot was NOT a handicapped spot and was clearly marked with a sign in front of it stating that a permit was required (despite the fact that there is an enormous painting in blue and white paint on the ground of the handicapped symbol). In any case, it appears there are two or more violations of Federal Statute going on here too under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. And the tow company could potentially face State Felony charges for exercising control over someone's vehicle without their (or anyone's) authorization.

Johnny T. Utopia said...

Tim, thanks for the comment on my blog, I need your contact info. Come back to my blog and submit a comment (not for publication) with your contact info, OK? Thanks. Sean's blog has been an amazing resource.

Anonymous said...

This company is the same company that was just on the news for towing a pregnant womans car away while her husband was helping her into the hospital...

So Don't use Seargeants Towing EVER. They are crooks and swindlers...

Anonymous said...

The law needs to be changed to signature required for any tow done in the state of Oregon. Just like it is in Washington, and California. It would be like giving police officers commission on writing tickets. Too many errors happen. ie. couldn't see the permit it was too dark. I used to work for both Retriever, and Sergeants. People get towed all the time that shouldn't. It's a waste of taxpayers money. Because police are always being asked to come babysit a disagreement between towee, and tower. The tow companies make a living on Joe P Public not knowing their rights.

SkyForum said...

Lots of words and ado about nothing. You yourself said it. There was a FOREST of signs warning about parking there. I'm also not sure where you get the idea this is public property. Sure looks private to me. Just because the restaurant has been closed for many years doesn't mean the property is not privately held, or publicly owned and privately managed under some sort of use contract.

I'm sorry Mr handicapped guy got his vehicle towed but anyone coming into that lot with a speck of sense about him would have never parked there, especially with a FOREST of signs telling him not to!

Your words are elegant, we will give you that but all the words after "The forest" of signs warning not to park there without a proper permit, irregardless of whether those permits were available or not should have been warning enough not to park there, handicapped or otherwise. The towing company has done nothing wrong. The obviously deranged individual that thought his handicap meant he didn't have to follow the rules clearly stated on the sign was in the wrong and deserved his fate.

Oh, there are no other violations here. The Americans with disabilities act NEVER gives anyone with disabilities the right to supersede a property owners rights to mitigate access for vehicles to his property as he sees fit, especially if there is no operating business or restaurant there that the individual would need handicapped access for.

It's obvious to me that you had your car towed once and this is how you have decided to spend your day. I would recommend getting up out of your chair and finding something constructive to do for a change.

I am fairly certain you will not post this response. Because of that, I am going to use this post as an example of the public running amuck with their cars in this country with the "if it will fit, I can park it there" attitude. If you do allow it, well kudos for you. You can always stop by my blog in a week or so and see how I've sliced your story to pieces.

PS, one more thing. Enabling content moderation in an attempt to control those that have a differing opinion that might take the wind out of your sails only serves to make your position look undefendable.

sean cruz said...

SkyForum: You should get your facts straight at some point:

1.The former McCall's and its parking lot are 100% public property, owned by the City of Portland.

2. Sergeant's had no contract with the city to post its signs or tow from the lot, facts acknowledged by both Sergeant's and the city, and had no lawful basis for towing.

3. The victim's money was eventually refunded, but not without a lot of hard work, time and trouble.

4. The City acknowledged that his vehicle was lawfully and properly parked.

Slice away all you like, Skyforum, but try to work with the facts.

Luke said...

OK, I know this is from like 2 years ago, but Sergeants has struck again…

Last night a tree fell over the only road to Greenbriar Apartments, and there were no spots except ones from another housing complex up the road, so we all went for it, advised to "park anywhere you can" by a police officer, and today Sergeants towed a bunch of us and isn't budging.

PDX BMX said...

MAN, I hate those guys! I see their signs everywhere and I always see them patrolling. There is a bmx spot that I like the ride at a nearby apartment complex. Sargent towtrucks are always coming in and out watching out for new cars, ready to take them to the impound lot. They piss me off.