Government & Politics

Kansas City sold impounded vehicles without notifying owner, federal lawsuit claims

If you've got about $200, KC might have the vehicle for you

Kansas City's auction of unclaimed vehicles includes wrecks, stolen vehicles, vehicles involved in crimes and a few hidden gems. Prices run from a couple hundred dollars to thousands.
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Kansas City's auction of unclaimed vehicles includes wrecks, stolen vehicles, vehicles involved in crimes and a few hidden gems. Prices run from a couple hundred dollars to thousands.

The city of Kansas City sold a man's vehicles without notifying him first — and it was not an isolated incident, a lawsuit filed in federal court alleges.

The lawsuit — against the city, the Kansas City Police Department and the board of police commissioners — says that in September 2013, used car dealer John Hinz reported several stolen vehicles to the police department. The vehicles were eventually recovered, but were placed in the city’s tow lot later that month as part of the police investigation of the theft.

The suit says that at all times, police knew Hinz was the owner of the vehicles and a tow report prepared by police told the city that the vehicles "were not abandoned or otherwise considered to be without a known owner."

But when an investigation and criminal charges involving the stolen vehicles were dismissed in November 2014, Kansas City Police authorized the release of the vehicles. Within two months, the two Chrysler Sebrings, a Ford Expedition, a Ford F-350 and a Lexus ES 300 were sold by the city.

Hinz claims he was not notified that the criminal case was dismissed, the hold released, that he could get the vehicles, or that his vehicles were going to be sold.

Hinz' attorney, Trent Church, and the city's spokesman did not have any further comment beyond the court filings.

On the third Tuesday of each month, the city holds an auction of vehicles that have been wrecked and abandoned, illegally parked, or seized by police in criminal investigations.

City data analyzed by The Star show that more than 5,300 vehicles were auctioned off for a total of $2.3 million last year.

According to the suit, if the last registered owner of the vehicle doesn't retrieve a vehicle within 30 days of a written notice, the city sells it and keeps the proceeds.

Hinz' suit says the city's electronic database includes the last registered owners of vehicles, but does not identify individuals who have true ownership and valid titles, even if the person has not yet registered the vehicle.

The lawsuit also alleges that this is not the first time the city has sold cars without the rightful owner's knowledge. It claims there have been about 50 instances in the last four years where a vehicle's owner with a valid title had their vehicle wrongly sold without notification and without consent, including other used car dealers.

The suit also claims that it's a regular practice for used car dealers not to register the vehicles in their inventory because of the quantity of vehicles being purchased and resold.

However, in response to the suit on behalf of the Board of Police Commissioners, Attorney General Josh Hawley's office said that Hinz failed to properly title the vehicles.

Hawley also said that the suit fails to show a continuing widespread pattern of unconstitutional misconduct by the governmental entity’s employees and that the Board of Police Commissioners can only be sued in certain instances dictated by state statute, and this isn't one of them.

Earlier this week, another suit was filed against the same parties by a woman who was not refunded a $265 ticket after her car was improperly towed by the city.

That suit, brought by Dyanna Black, alleges that her civil rights were violated by the city's lack of a policy or procedure to refund her when her car should have never been towed in the first place. Black is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.