Four police officers in one small California town were arrested Tuesday, accused of illegally seizing the cars of poor motorists.
Authorities say the officers from King City, Calif. hatched a scheme in which they targeted poor, Hispanic drivers during traffic stops for minor violations and impounded their cars. If the drivers couldn't afford to get their cars out of impound, the officers either sold the car for their own profit or kept the vehicles themselves.
Investigators say the officers eyed minority drivers, many of whom could not speak English, because they were easy prey.
Two mechanics, Francisco Mendez and Alfonso Perez, both told the Associated Press they were frequently stopped for having tinted windows or broken tail lights. "It seems like they just wanted a reason to pull you over," Mendez told the news outlet.
The four officers charged were Sgt. Bobby Javier Carrillo, acting chief Bruce Edward Miller, former chief Dominic Baldiviez and Mario Alonso Mottu Sr. A tow-shop operator involved in the alleged impounding scheme was also arrested. Two other officers were arrested on unrelated charges. Authorities said at least 200 cars were illegally seized.
Complaints of police harassment are nothing new in this agricultural area in Monterey County, where John Steinbeck lived and wrote novels that detailed harsh treatment of migrants and minorities at the hands of authorities.
Traffic stops are the most common interaction between American citizens and police officers, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics survey, but also at the crux of several recent incidents involving illegal behavior by police officers.
Earlier this week, AOL reported on a series of incidents in which police officers, hunting for drugs, had conducted searches that violated both the bodies and Fourth Amendment rights of motorists. In some cases, the searches included anal probes, X-rays and roadside vaginal searches.
Pete Bigelow is an associate editor at AOL Autos. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.