Texarkana Ward 2 Director Laney Harris argued that the city’s current procedure for towing unsightly or hazardous abandoned vehicles is unconstitutional at a hearing in federal court Tuesday.
Harris filed a suit in May after city officials attempted to remove an abandoned car from Harris’ front yard on Ninth Street in Texarkana, Ark. The towing suit also names Keith Bursey as a plaintiff.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Bryant heard arguments Tuesday concerning the towing case.
Harris argued for a temporary restraining order that would stop the city from towing abandoned vehicles without an order signed by a judge.
Currently the city places a sticker on apparently abandoned cars, warning that the city may tow in 10 days if the vehicle is not moved.
Harris complains that he received a call Feb. 15 from someone alerting him that a Lloyd Green Wrecker Service truck was about to tow his car. Harris alleges that he suffered public humiliation as a result.
Harris said a sticker had been placed on his car in 2010. On Feb. 15, Lloyd Green Wrecker Service, at the request of the city, made an attempt to remove the car.
Harris said he called police and the tow never happened. Harris told Bryant on Tuesday that the city returned and again attempted to tow the car Feb. 27. Harris said he again called police and the tow didn’t happen.
Harris said he has since been given notice that he may be fined for interfering with a governmental operation by stopping city code enforcement officers from removing the car.
Bryant asked Harris to address two elements that must exist for the court to grant a temporary restraining order: the likelihood that Harris will win at trial and the extent to which he is being harmed by the city’s current policy.
Harris said all of the city’s residents are being harmed because their cars can be towed without due process.
Harris said the current policy doesn’t allow owners to object to the towing notices in court. The notices give owners 10 days to move the offending cars.
When asked after the hearing why he doesn’t simply move the car to his backyard or to another less visible location, Harris spoke of principles.
“It’s about the law and principle,” Harris said.
Harris said he just wants the city to set towing cases for hearings before a judge before taking action.
Bursey said his 1966 Chevrolet truck was towed from his front yard Feb. 15. Bursey said he’d been working on the truck and decided to put it up for sale when it was towed. He said that once before he’d gone to court to address the tow notice sticker and that nobody from code enforcement attended.
After a second sticker was placed on the Chevrolet, it was towed, Bursey said.
“I went around to different people I thought might have stolen it, and then it dawned on me it might have been the city,” Bursey said.
Bursey said he paid approximately $300 to Lloyd Green to release the truck and had to use additional funds to hire a wrecker service to tow it back to his house. Bursey said the Chevrolet now sits in his backyard, which is surrounded by a privacy fence.
The city’s attorney, C. Burt Newell of Hot Springs, said towing laws are often controversial.
“But they’re almost uniformly upheld,” Newell said. “There is no evidence they were singled out or picked on.”
Newell said municipalities tow abandoned or nuisance vehicles to make a city more appealing. Newell argued that a restraining order could actually harm the city while leaving the policy in force would not harm Harris or Bursey.
Bryant said he will rule on the restraining order request in the towing case within a few days.
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