Baldwin judge rules sheriff’s deputies ‘illegally seized’ Camaro from Rabun resident

Ruling gives Sheriff’s Office 43 days to return vehicle, now in the hands of a Kansas man
Baldwin judge rules sheriff’s deputies ‘illegally seized’ Camaro from Rabun resident
Published: Nov. 15, 2023 at 1:31 PM CST
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BAY MINETTE, Ala. (WALA) - Delivering a stiff rebuke of an “improper and illegal” seizure of a Rabun man’s car, a judge has ordered the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office to return the vehicle.

The problem, however, is that the car is in the hands of a Kansas man who reported it stolen two decades ago.

Presiding Baldwin County Circuit Judge Clark Stankoski previously ruled against the Sheriff’s Office and denied a request to reconsider the decision. His latest ruling, issued Tuesday, gives the Sheriff’s Office and the state of Alabama 43 days to return the vehicle to Thomas Hadley. Baldwin County District Attorney Robert Wilters told FOX10 News that the ruling likely will be appealed but that he could not comment further.

At issue is a 1968 Camaro that Hadley purchased in 2016. Based on a Vehicle Identification Number, the Alabama Department of Revenue determined that the vehicle had been stolen. So Baldwin County sheriff’s deputies in September demanded that he surrender it and, when he refused, returned with a warrant to seize it.

Deputies gave it to the Kansas man about 20 minutes before Stankoski issued a temporary restraining order preventing the Sheriff’s Office from taking it. The judge chastised the Sheriff’s Office, writing that it was “illegal to use the criminal process to help facilitate a civil remedy.”

The judge noted that no one representing the state presented evidence that there was a legitimate criminal investigation.

“Each and every Baldwin County Sheriff Deputy testified that they were not investigating a crime,” he wrote. “They never considered Mr. Hadley under criminal investigation, and they had no intention of making an arrest in this case. … Procuring a search warrant to side step a Circuit Court Judge was thus improper and illegal.”

Hadley maintains that he legally purchased it from a Baldwin County man who had owned it for several years prior to that. His attorney told FOX10 News that the VIN matching the stolen car was from a part on the firewall that had been replaced years before he bought it.

Stankoski wrote that he was making no specific judgment on that dispute, ruling that he had insufficient evidence to decide that issue. He noted that the Kansas man did not testify about the original VIN on his stolen car; nor did he testify that his car had been altered.

“This issue should be decided in the proper venue, at the appropriate time, with sworn testimony from those claiming ownership,” he said.