A small town policing-for-profit scheme that netted hundreds of thousands of dollars for the police department to spend each year has taken a huge blow, from a federal court’s decision not to dismiss the lawsuit.
The Institute for Justice has been working on, and reporting on, the situation in “notorious Brookside, Alabama,” for several years.
“Brookside has rightly become the national posterchild of policing for profit,” said IJ Attorney Jaba Tsitsuashvili. “The court’s unequivocal denial of the town’s effort to evade accountability for its abusive ticketing and towing practices is a welcome sign. It should serve as a warning to local governments across the country that they can’t prey on the vulnerable to generate revenue. Enough is enough. People are fighting back, asserting their rights, and demanding accountability.”
The city had demanded that the lawsuit by several individuals victimized by the town’s policy be dismissed, and a private towing company named as defendant also had asked to be protected against the legal action.
But the IJ reported “Judge Anna M. Manasco of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama denied Brookside’s request to dismiss the lawsuit and rejected a private towing company’s request to be dismissed from the case.”
The case was brought by four individuals, but “demands accountability on behalf of all drivers affected by the town’s unconstitutional system of abusive fines, fees, and property seizures,” the IJ said.
The legal team explained for years the town and its towing company partner pursued and prioritized police revenue and private profit over constitutional rights. The small town made national headlines last year for ticketing drivers and towing their cars to fuel a concerted policing-for-profit system that resulted in a 600% increase in revenue from fines and forfeitures, with hundreds of thousands of dollars flowing to police coffers annually.
But the judge found: “Plaintiffs are seeking to dismantle the financial incentive system for law enforcement that the town allegedly erected beginning in March 2018 – a system that allegedly caused the town to be investigated by the Alabama Attorney General’s office.”
She said the claims are “sufficient to plead a due process claim based on the institutional interest of the police department in generating impound fees and making arrests.”
The IJ explained, “As the court recognized, Brookside police towed the cars of the named plaintiffs – Brittany Coleman, Brandon Jones, Chekeithia Grant, and Alexis Thomas – regardless of whether the vehicles could be safely operated. They had to pay $175 to Brookside before paying $160 (plus daily impound fees) to a private towing company to get them back. Even with criminal charges dismissed, there is no way to get that money back – or the hundreds of dollars in bail and court costs that were also piled on, further padding town revenues.”
WND had reported just months earlier when the court also rejected the police officers’ demand that they be protected from any lawsuit over their actions.
The court at that point noted officers had not provided any reason at all for handcuffing one plaintiff.
Also, “body camera footage flatly contradicts” their argument that they towed the car for driving under the influence of marijuana. To the contrary, the footage shows one of the officers admitting, “I don’t believe you’re going to be under the influence,” but then the officers deciding to take the car because “‘the Chief’ wanted them to tow in these circumstances,” the report explained.
This part of the case charges that the Brookside officers handcuffed Brittany Coleman and had her car towed – without any justification.
When she sued, as part of a class action case, the officers claimed qualified immunity, a legal standard that states if their actions were not clearly confirmed as illegal in law, they could get by with what they did.
In the officer’s comment, “the chief,” is former Brookside police chief Mike Jones, “who boasted publicly about implementing a ticketing and towing system that resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for the tiny town of 1,200 residents – money that went almost entirely back to the police department,” the IJ noted.
His system issued more than 3,000 tickets and towed nearly 800 cars in 2020 alone.
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