LOS ANGELES – A street vendor is suing the city of Santa Monica, alleging in federal court that the city is targeting Blacks and Latinos by illegally towing the vehicles of unlicensed drivers, according to court papers obtained Friday.
Reyes Murcia alleges in the proposed class-action complaint that Santa Monica is targeting Black and Latino people of low means by depriving them of their property in violation of the Fourth Amendment while “arbitrarily” imposing an unjustified impound fee, according to the civil rights lawsuit filed Thursday in Los Angeles.
A spokesperson for the Santa Monica city attorney’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.
The suit also names as defendants Santa Monica Police Chief Ramon Batista, City Manager David White and All City Towing, which operates under a contract with the city. The plaintiff alleges that the city’s vehicle seizure policy causes an unlicensed driver’s vehicle to be impounded without a warrant “in order to coerce” its owner to pay a fee, “despite the registered vehicle owner being capable to produce or direct a licensed driver to operate the vehicle,” the suit says.
Murcia contends that his 2006 Chevrolet Tahoe was impounded after Santa Monica police officers stopped him in a parking lot for having a broken rear tail light. During the stop, the vendor says, he was asked for his California driver’s license but was only able to produce an expired Mexican license.
Murcia alleges the Chevy Tahoe was not a traffic hazard nor was it a danger to the community, but the officers impounded the vehicle anyway because, they told him, he did not have a California driver’s license, according to the lawsuit.
The plaintiff contends he learned that the fee to release the vehicle would be $159.90 and, in addition, the city charges a 30-day impound fee of $1,128.
The suit asks that a federal judge find the city’s vehicle seizure policy unconstitutional, that the Chevy Tahoe be returned to him, and that he be awarded damages and court costs.