Judge rules Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office improperly seized man’s Camaro

Published: Sep. 12, 2023 at 8:22 PM CDT
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BAY MINETTE, Ala. (WALA) - This is the story of a Chevrolet Camaro. A very well-traveled 1968 Camaro.

Baldwin County resident Thomas Hadley, who has owned the vehicle since 2016, got a surprise visit from the Alabama Department of Revenue last month after the Vehicle Identification Number of a car registered in Tennessee matched the number on file for Hadley’s Camaro. The investigation uncovered records of a car reported stolen from Montgomery County, Kansas, two decades ago.

That set off a chain of events that led to the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office seizing the vehicle last month and then a judge ordering it to be returned to Hadley. The vehicle by then, however, no longer in was Alabama.

By the time lawyer Scott Hunter went to court to try to stop the deputies from seizing the vehicle, deputies already were towing it away.

“Probably, we overlapped,” he told FOX10 News. “I was probably at the courthouse as it was being trailered.”

Hadley, whose son is a lawyer, initially refused to give his car to the Sheriff’s Office without a judge’s order. The son, meanwhile, told authorities he would keep the car in his garage until the matter could be sorted out. That’s when deputies obtained a search warrant for the son’s home.

After a hearing last week, Baldwin County Circuit Judge Clark Stankoski agreed the car had been “seized by extra-judicial action.” He ordered the Camaro returned. But by then, it was in the hands of the man who reported his car stolen in 2003.

Only, it’s not the same car, according to Hunter. Or at least, mostly not the same car.

Hunter said the VIN on Hadley’s car that matched the VIN on the stolen car report is only for one part on the firewall on his client’s vehicle. The Vehicle Identification Numbers that appear elsewhere on the Camaro are different.

“At worst, it’s part of this car that is from the car in Kansas,” he said.

Baldwin County District Attorney Robert Wilters, whose office represented the state, declined to comment.

Baldwin County Sheriff Hoss Mack told FOX10 News that multiple law enforcement agencies form three states conducted a weeks-long investigation.

“At the end of the investigation the vehicle was returned to its original owner in Kansas,” he said in a statement. “The Sheriff’s Office also recognizes the fact that the person who possessed the vehicle in Baldwin County sustained a loss as well. The Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s Office are currently reviewing the judge’s decision and may approach the court to request a reconsideration.”

Hunter said no one knows for sure how a piece of the Kansas man’s car ended up on his client’s vehicle.

“That car could have been, as everybody that watches movies knows about, chop shops, where cars are cut up; cars are stolen and then the parts are cut up. … It’s a very good chance that that’s what happened to that car in Kansas,” he said.

But Hunter said it is crystal-clear his client did nothing wrong. He produced a title that Hadley received when he purchased the car in 2016 from a Stapleton resident. That man had registered it in Baldwin County for several years before that.

That’s well beyond the five-year window for a receiving stolen property charge, Hunter said. And he said investigators who obtained the search warrant indicated they were looking for evidence of a crime.

“They were not conducting a criminal investigation,” he said. “They took it upon themselves to go take this car because they felt it was the right thing to do. But they did so without any legal authority.”