Woman Gets Car Back From Police After 3 Years
Tyhesha Brunston had her car for only 29 days when the Chicago Police seized it. It was a two year old, Black Chevy Impala. She hadn't even put license plates on it yet. Now she approaches the car which is in the corner of a police impound lot off 83rd on Chicago's South Side.
BRUNSTON: The car has been sitting there for three years with the window open.
Brunston makes her way to the driver's side door through five foot tall weeds.
BRUNSTON: They told me this window was broken but as you can see there go the window right there. That's the window, this is glass. As you can see this is full of water, all of this mold and everything I mean...
The inside of the car is filled with leaves, and garbage. Brunston pays four hundred dollars to get the car out to cover towing and storage fees. That's a deal struck by her attorney who convinced prosecutors to waive twenty four thousand dollars in storage fees. She hires a tow truck which stops at a gas station just two blocks from the impound lot so she can put some air in the tires and walk around the car.
BRUNSTON: I don't remember putting the plates on there. I got the plates at home.
And she notices a big hole in the bumper.
BRUNSTON: I don't know what they did. That wasn't... What I'm saying is the car didn't look like this when it was first put in the pound. When she gets the car back to her yard, Brunston gets a much closer look as she starts cleaning it out. She finds a wallet and some pay stubs for a "Jason Gosanka." Suspicious, Brunston pulls out her title and compares it to the Vehicle Identification Number on the dash of the car.
BRUNSTON: This is w-f-5-5. This is w-h-5-2-k-0. This is not my car.
For Brunston, the snafu is one final insult in a three yearsaga. The story goes back to 2006 when she saved up money to buy the car so she could balance her full time job with going to college four nights a week from 6 to 9. She couldn't afford to park downtown so a friend drove her. In return he got to use the car during the days but when he was pulled over with drugs police seized the vehicle. It took three years before prosecutor's dropped that case and they wouldn't give Brunston her car back until the criminal case was resolved.
PETERS: Due process means the right to a meaningful hearing at a meaningful time.
Tom Peter's is Tyhesha Brunston's attorney. He says there are lots of women and grandmothers who lend out their cars to friends and grandson's who get picked up for drug crimes. And he says there's no chance for the innocent car owner to make a case for getting their car back. Peters says the state's attorney has an incentive to seize as many cars as possible because they get to keep a portion of the proceeds from cars sold at auction. Peter's is submitting a brief to the U-S Supreme Court today pushing for more judicial oversight, a hearing of some sort shortly after a car is seized. He envisions something similar to a bond hearing.
PETERS: A guy gets charged with a crime. Sometimes he's guilty, sometimes he's innocent so what do they have? They have a bond hearing. Both sides tell their side of the story to the judge, a judge decides are you going to stay in the cook county jail or you're going to be out on bond until there's a trial.
CASTIGLIONE: How fast a case can be investigated and be ready to go to trial depends on what else is going on with the seizing authority, with the prosecutors office...
Paul Castiglione is with the Cook County State's Attorney's office and he'll be arguing before the Supreme Court to keep the law as it is. He says it's not practical to have a hearing too quickly after a car seizure because police need time to investigate the car owner's relationship to the crime.
CASTIGLIONE: Two things have to be balanced here. The rights obviously of the individual to their property and also the right of the community to be able to prosecute crime including serious drug crimes.
When Castiglione argues the case he'll be representing more than just the Cook County State's Attorney's office. The Federal Government and Attorney's General from 21 states all support Castiglione's effort to preserve what they say is an important tool for fighting drug crimes. As for Tyhesha Brunston, police eventually showed up with the right car. After a new battery, brakes, and a tune-up, the car is running and she's looking forward to showing it off as she only got to do that for a few weeks before it was seized in 2006.