HAMLET — Hamlet City Council was very much alive on Tuesday night as the subject of seized cars by the Hamlet Police Department in recent years took center stage.
Deborah and Mack Steagall talked about their son, Ryan Steagall, and his 1996 Pontiac Grand Am that was seized — allegedly under wrongful conditions — in 2007. The couple never knew what exactly happened to the car and their first knowledge that it was taken and scrapped was through a report from The Daily Journal on Oct. 15.
“We didn’t receive any notification and there was no record of the car being towed,” Deborah Steagall said. “We didn’t get anything.”
All the charges that were brought against Ryan Steagall were merely traffic violations, Hamlet Police Chief Amery Griffin said.
The charges were later voluntarily dismissed, but the car was not returned to its owner.
Council members Abbie Covington and Pat Preslar were in agreement that this was a situation that needed to be addressed immediately.
“I believe compensation is deserved because we were in the wrong,” Covington said.
Preslar elaborated by discussing a conversation he had had with Tommy Stogner, another man whose car was seized under allegedly unlawful conditions in 2011. Stogner’s vehicle was seized, sold and placed in the name of someone else before his court date. Stogner was denied being able to get his car back even though it should not have been seized at all, Preslar said.
Preslar felt very strongly on the matter. He said has received a letter allegedly threatening him in connection with the issue though didn’t elaborate on the contents or its sender. It was at this point that he said he would only be on the council for his remainding two years and didn’t plan to run for re-election. Council member Tony Clewis was also mentioned in the letter, Preslar said, and he agreed with Preslar’s decision of not running again.
Clewis said the job has also given him “too many sleepless nights.”
There have been a total of 11 people that have contacted the police concerning cars that were wrongfully taken and scrapped, said Griffin. The total cost of those 11 people was approximately $15,000 as an estimate. It will be difficult to actually come up with a value for the individual cars since some had new motors put in and custom paint jobs.
“The car was originally mine before it was given to my son,” Deborah Steagall said. “We even had a new motor put into it before it was taken.”
Preslar moved for the city to contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office or a private investigator to look into the “violation of people’s constitutional rights against illegal searches, seizures and arrests.”
The council voted in favor of Preslar’s motion with a 4 to 1 vote, with Johnathan Buie opposed.
Covington wanted to be sure to get to the bottom of the issue of the ones that have come forward.
“We need to stand up and make it right,” Covington said.
Covington made another motion that the city should establish a value of the car at the time it was seized and get the proper amount of money to the people that lost their cars. Covington wanted to make sure the city took into account any additional work that these individuals had done extra on the car as well — so long as they can prove they were the actual owners and have paper work showing any improvements or additions. The motion passed with a unanimous vote.
“We can’t close the door on something we did illegal,” Preslar said.