Getting your car impounded is never fun. It’s a nauseating and embarrassing experience regardless of the circumstances. But for one New Mexico man, having his car impounded turned into a decade-long search to get it back. That’s how long it took Leo Martinez of Albuquerque to find his 1970 Chevy Chevelle SS 454 after police impounded it. Police seized the car while he spent nine months in jail after pleading guilty to a DWI charge, according to KOB 4.
The trouble started in 2009 when Albuquerque Police Department officers pulled over Martinez after leaving a bar. When Martinez was released months later, he began his search. Try as he might, he couldn’t find the vehicle. He went to different car shows thinking someone had bought it, but everyone he talked to said they hadn’t seen the car.
It wasn’t until March 2019 when Martinez saw the vehicle on a Facebook post, which said the vehicle was nearly crushed. The post also said the Albuquerque Police Department would turn the vehicle into a show car for the department. Martinez filed a lawsuit to get his Chevy Chevelle returned.
KOB 4 attempted to help Martinez track down his car, making phone calls in an attempt to find it, but the efforts came up short. Then, a KOB 4 crew found the car in a storage yard operated by the City of Albuquerque. The city later said it would not turn the Chevy Chevelle into a show car and instead return it to Martinez.
The sudden reversal from Albuquerque isn’t a surprise. Martinez getting his car back happened just weeks after plaintiffs filed a class-action lawsuit against the city for allegedly illegally seizing and keeping vehicles even after the practice, called civil asset forfeiture, was ruled unconstitutional. Some who’ve had their car taken were never charged with crimes while others who managed to get their vehicles back from the city got them back in significantly a condition that was significantly worse than they were before.
As for civil asset forfeiture, it isn’t new – but its appearance in the news cycle feels somewhat sudden. At its core, the practice is a legal tool that allows police to seize property assumed to be involved in criminal activity, but like seizing the home of a drug lord during a raid. Though it makes sense in some cases, law enforcement agencies across the country have used the program to take property without ever charging the property owner with a crime, and the courts are just now reigning in that power. Nevertheless, Martinez has now been reunited with his Chevy Chevelle – although doing so took roughly a decade.
Source: KOB 4