Modesto, CA – April 18, 2013 – While the repo company got the car, the city of Modesto paid a hefty price for entering the borrower’s residence without a warrant and forcing her under threat of arrest to surrender the vehicle from her garage.
Modesto Police were called to the family’s home by a Repo Man employed by a Sacramento Repo Company who was attempting to repossess the woman’s car, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Fresno.
The car was parked in the garage and the borrower, Rosa Letona, disputed the Repo Man’s right to repossess it. The agent did not have a court order for the car, according to the lawsuit, but officers helped him remove it despite protests from the Letona and her daughters.
The lawsuit claims that the officers violated the civil rights of Rosa Letona and her daughters Natalie Letona and Rosemary Banuelos to be free of having police enter and search their home without a warrant and denied Rosa Letona of her due process rights by helping the tow truck driver remove the car without court permission.
The incident allegedly took place on April 5, 2011, at the family’s home in northeast Modesto. According to the lawsuit, the agent tried to repossess Letona’s Mitsubishi Galant. Letona told the driver there was a mistake and she did not owe money on the car.
The Repo Agent then requested help from police. The officers entered the home without permission and asked for the keys to the car. Rosa Letona called 911 and pleaded with dispatchers to send someone to help her. She requested to speak to a lieutenant or the officers’ supervisor. The lawsuit says dispatchers told her not to call 911 again.
The lawsuit claims officers twisted Letona’s arm behind her back, pushed her and handcuffed her and put her in the back of a hot police car after she tried to stop officers from entering the garage.
After the officers left, Letona was taken by ambulance to the hospital for a severe anxiety attack.
The officers’ actions also violate the repossession company’s policies. The repo company, who has threatened to sue CUCollector for even mentioning their name website states police “may not advance or hinder repossessions” without a court order.
“Justice was served in this case,” said Livermore attorney Sanjay S. Schmidt, who represented Letona and her two daughters.
City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood provided this statement by email:
“The City chose to settle the subject civil actions after conducting a cost/benefit analysis of pursuing further litigation in each case.
“The City did not admit any fault or wrongdoing on the part of any defendant in either action, and each settlement was the settlement of a disputed claim.”
Letona will receive $70,000 and her two daughters $25,000 each, according to city records. They will have to pay attorney fees from their settlements.
The lawsuit names officers Brian Ferguson, Benjamin Kroutil, Jonathan Griffith and Ben Brandvold and Sgt. Daniel Key as defendants.
“For me, it’s amazing,” Letona, 53, said. “My attorney really did a good job. I never thought we’d win, but the police made a big mistake to enter my home.”
Schmidt said Letona is a former volunteer with the Redwood City Police Department and her son is a Marine who has served in Afghanistan.
“She’s like anybody’s neighbor,” Schmidt said. “They are just a regular American family.”