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City Shuts Down Tow Truck Operation - But with Cause?

May 28, 2009

A tow truck driver, who claims Cleveland officials ruined his business and dragged his name through the mud, is suing Cleveland for $5 million, according to Cleveland.com. 

On May 26, U.S. District Judge James Gwin ruled that Cleveland police violated the rights of 37-year-old Jose Rodriguez when they searched his property, confiscated his entire fleet and arrested him without a warrant or probable cause in July 2006. 

Rodriguez was in the process of buying M&M Auto Body and Towing when he was arrested by police based on an anonymous tip that claimed Rodriguez had received stolen property. According to the news source, police told Rodriguez that they were conducting an annual inspection as they wandered around the property and inspected vehicles in the impound lot. 

Police seized a 2004 Ford dump truck and four other tow trucks from Rodriguez's property, citing that the vehicles didn't belong to him. During that incident, Rodriguez spent a week in jail before he was released on $15,000 bail. 

Days after his release, police showed up to Rodriguez's property with three news camera crews from local television stations. He was arrested for possession of criminal tools, including a floor jack, a tool chest and a welding torch. Additionally, police seized Rodriguez's remaining tow trucks and completely shut down the company, according to the news source. Months before his trial in January 2007, police refused to return Rodriguez's fleet. 

Because Rodriguez provided titles and ownership documents, verifying that he believed he lawfully owned all of the seized vehicles, he was acquitted at his January 2007 trial. Police were ordered to return all of Rodriguez's trucks; however, according to the Cleveland.com, the damage was already done and Rodriguez's business was in shambles. Additionally, he was fired from a management job at a factory due to the media frenzy over his second arrest. 

In August 2008, Rodriguez filed a federal lawsuit against the city. He is seeking $5 million for atonement. 

During the June 16 trial, a jury will determine whether the city failed to properly train officers to acquire warrants and whether police regularly dodge department policy and the law by claiming "administrative inspections" to describe warrantless searches. 

Gwin dismissed claims that the police's conduct and disregard for due process were malicious and that officers deliberately caused emotional distress on Rodriguez. However, a jury will decide whether or not the city was harassing Rodriguez when they refused his application for a city tow truck license and interfered with his state vehicle registration earlier in the year.

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