I was in Arizona in the spring of 2007 and I rented a car to drive to Nevada for the weekend. The car was a Chrysler PT Cruiser, rented from Enterprise Rent-A-Car. I went home to Ohio a couple days later and returned to the house in Tempe in July. On the last full day of my July trip, I went through the mail that my roommate had collected for me. I found a Scottsdale photocop ticket amongst the papers. I also noticed a lot of junk mail for how to beat photocops, so apparently this ticket was publicly released.
If you look critically at these images, you should be able to easily spot the error. The vehicle shown is a Jeep Liberty while the ticket refers to a “CHRY PTE.” It would be somewhat forgivable if the readers of this page don’t catch that, but a person who is trained to review these before sending them out should spot it immediately. Notice that Bill Harper has “signed” the ticket.
I am aware that all I really had to do was throw the ticket away because they would never have been able to serve me in Ohio. Due to an experience my uncle had and other stories I’ve read online about dishonest process servers, I thought I’d just go down to the courthouse and clear this up (I was innocent, after all). I had been planning to drive up to North Scottsdale to work on my boat, so I stopped by the courthouse on my way. I didn’t see any reason to change into something nicer than my “working on the boat” clothes, so I wore jeans, a sleeveless shirt, and some sandals. I got to go in and speak to the judge but, since there is no prosecutor at those hearings, he could do nothing for me. I believe that a prosecutor is not present at those hearings because the system is set up to facilitate people just paying and not fighting. All he could do was schedule a court date in a few weeks. Obviously that was not going to work for me since I was going home the next day. I did get the judge to direct me to the prosecutor’s office, which was behind the courthouse. I went over there and waited a few minutes to speak to the prosecutor that handles photocop tickets. She was friendly and agreed to get it dismissed. When I asked her who Bill Harper is, she said I was wasting her time and that she wanted to eat lunch! I sarcastically told her that I had planned on eating lunch as well, at which point she sort of acknowledged my wasted time. It’s not like she really had any option but to dismiss the charges. If she had brought me to court knowing that all of the evidence pointed to another person, it would have been malicious prosecution.
A week later, my roommate in Tempe called me saying I got a letter from the Scottsdale courts. I had him open it and it turned out that the motion to dismiss had been denied! I had a court date set for the exact date of my move to Iowa. It said if I didn’t show up, I would have a default judgement issued against me. I wondered who the heck I was going to fight in court if the prosecutor agreed with me, but obviously this would not do. I called the prosecutor’s office and eventually got ahold of her. She looked into it and eventually called me and apologized and said she was embarrassed that this happened, but apparently the paperwork was filed wrong. She filed it again and the next week I got a letter saying that the case had been dismissed.
I have communicated with several people about this. They all confirmed and enhanced what I already knew about how the system works. Apparently at the time of my ticket, Scottsdale had a contract with Redflex to administer their cameras. Redflex is a private company that sells, calibrates, and operates these systems (an obvious conflict of interest). Apparently what happened in my case is that the license plate photo was blurry so the computer accused the wrong car. Enterprise Rent-A-Car pointed at me, so I got the ticket. Redflex is supposed to have three people look at each ticket and then, once they have approved it, a police officer is supposed to give it a final review before sending it out. It is common sense that the only reason that a person reviews the tickets is to pacify the public, who would be alarmed that a computer could wrongly accuse a person. In my case they all failed to notice that the vehicle in the picture said “JEEP” in large letters on the back, when they were ticketing a PT Cruiser. This is probably because the system is more interested in the money than properly identifying the culprit.
Some of them have been more helpful than others but none of them seem to value my time. They all have the attitude that I got lucky and handled this properly so I didn’t have serious problems. I think that my time is important and they need an exercise in humility so they should write me an apology letter.
- Frank Vardon-Dove: This is the representative that I have been speaking to from Enterprise Rent-A-Car. He initially defended their position in cooperating with police. But then I pointed out that due dilligence (looking at the citation) would have protected me from this and it was probably a legal matter to violate my privacy by giving out my information whenever someone asked for it. Also I mentioned that Enterprise is the only rental company known for doing this. Most others don’t turn the drivers over, from what I’ve read. I sent him a copy of the citation to review. Eventually he called me and said that they have implemented a system in which they will verify the plates for future citations. Also he sent me a coupon for a free rental. I couldn’t be happier with his response. If they must involve themselves in this broken system, they should protect their innocent customers and take responsibility for mistakes that happen.
- Richard D. Baranzini: This is who I initially communicated with from the Scottsdale Police Department. He was very helpful, but does not care about the trouble I went through and the implications of this mistake. I was basically required to go to court to fight evidence that pointed to somebody else. That a computer can cause this and that proper checks weren’t in place should raise red flags. He also told me that a long-standing freedom of information request is the reason private companies found out about the citation.
- Robert Salcido: This is an employee of Redflex. He is obviously unapologetic and I believe he lied to me about an important detail of their system. He also incorrectly believes that his email signature bars me from repeating what he says. Unsurprisingly, given his stance on photocops, he has no understanding of the law and in reality a legally-binding contract cannot be imposed in an email signature. In any case, he said exactly what was expected of a company that makes money by bending the constitution. He just regurgitated the standard lines about how his hardworking employees (3 of them) somehow missed the mistake.
- Bruce Kalin: This is Richard Baranzini’s boss at the Scottsdale PD. I sent him an email outlining how this was a hassle for me and how any amount of hassle was unacceptable when it was completely due to a failure on the parts of the Scottsdale PD and their contractors.
- Bill A. Harper: His signature is printed on the citation. Because he certified the accuracy of the citation, it really should be him who I sue. However, I’m sure he has some immunity that protects him from the need to be ethical or legal. What he did seems to be clear cut fraud.
Why this matters
Laws have been broken with respect to my privacy and my right to confront my accuser. Since the information was seen by companies and possibly my insurance company, it is important that a person does the ticketing instead of a computer. The release of my information, strictly based on false information that brief due diligence would have spotted seems like libel. A few years later, I discovered that anybody doing a background check on me will find 20-something records related to getting this ticket cleared up. Though I was ultimately cleared, it does look bad to have so much activity on my record. Given that Scottsdale has a policy not to expunge records from photo tickets, this seems like punishment for standing up for myself. One day, if I am in Arizona long enough, I’d really like to look into suing the city to get this cleared up.
Regardless of what statistics exist (or don’t exist) pertaining to the lives saved by these systems, any system that would falsely accuse somebody from out of state in this way is completely unacceptable. If I hadn’t gotten my mail, I could have had a warrant out for me. I wasted a few hours and many cell-phone minutes on this, some while on vacation and some while I was preparing to move from Ohio to Iowa. This was a very busy part of my life without all of this. Expedience should never be a justification for trampling on rights like this. What was wrong with the old way of just having a cop give out tickets?