City of Charlottetown ordered to pay for impounding criminal's car too long

·3 min read
The 2012 Chevy Sonic stayed locked up from April through September 2018 for 'no clear reason' according to the judge. Impound fees at this yard were $25 a day. (Brian Higgins/CBC - image credit)
The 2012 Chevy Sonic stayed locked up from April through September 2018 for 'no clear reason' according to the judge. Impound fees at this yard were $25 a day. (Brian Higgins/CBC - image credit)

A Prince Edward Island man who had his car seized by police when he was arrested on drug charges has won his small claims court case over who should pay the hefty impound bill.

The judges' answer: Not the man, despite his eventual criminal conviction and imprisonment.

Justice James Gormley ordered the City of Charlottetown to pay Kenneth Joseph King $6,200 in compensation for his orange 2012 Chevy Sonic, which city police seized during a drug raid in April of 2018.

After King's arrest, his car remained impounded at Shaw's Towing in Charlottetown for almost six months, until Sept. 21 of that year.

At a daily impound fee of $25, the judge tallied the total bill, from April 4 to Sept. 21, at $4,200. That "almost equates to the value of the vehicle," according to Justice Gormley's written decision.

The judge ruled police had no clear reason for keeping the car impounded for so long.

Car was searched 'within a day or two'

At the two-day trial in small-claims court in May of this year, police testified that after seizing King's car, they were finished with it "within a day or two." They searched it thoroughly and found no evidence relevant to their drug case. The car was then towed to the impound yard.

At the small claims trial, police testified they had considered forfeiture of the car as "proceeds of crime" but that option was later rejected by the Crown prosecutor in the drug case.

"The initial search and detention were justified," Gormley wrote in his decision, "but the vehicle should have been returned to Mr. King… the decision should have been made after three days."

'Police were making a decision ... without any legislative, regulatory or even a transparent policy' - Justice James Gormley

The judge also ruled Charlottetown police lacked a clear policy on impounding vehicles.

Now-retired police chief Paul Smith testified at the small claims trial that holding an accused person responsible for impound fees was "standard practice."

The former police chief's testimony also "confirmed that the police were not relying on any legislative, regulatory or even a written policy," Gormley wrote.

Brian Higgins/CBC
Brian Higgins/CBC

"I am left with a decision made by the police based on their standard practice, which quite frankly is rather opaque in nature," he noted.

"Police were making a decision which could have serious financial implications for the individual owner without any legislative, regulatory or even a transparent policy to ground their decision-making process."

"All impound fees are the responsibility of the city police," the judge ruled in this case.

Car left outside for 3 winters

King filed his small claims suit in March of 2019. He originally wanted his car back.

However, at trial this year, a mechanic for Shaw's Towing testified that the brakes, alternator and starter had seized, and the car had deteriorated badly.

The judge calculated the Chevy Sonic's value at $6,200 and ordered the City of Charlottetown to pay that amount to King.

But the judge also sympathized with the confusing situation Charlottetown police officers faced at the time of King's criminal proceedings.

"The police decision-making was flawed [but] I do not characterize the actions of the police as intentional. There were a number of moving parts: the trial of the accused… the changing nature of the police, and their relationship to the Sonic over time," Gormley wrote.

"Although Mr. King is no innocent to this process, the actions of the police have led to an unjustifiable economic loss."

According to court records, Kenny King was charged in 2018 with possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking in connection with the incident. After a two-day criminal trial, he was found guilty and sentenced to 20 months.

The judge said Shaw's Towing did nothing inappropriate. They were just following instructions from police.

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