April 13, 2024

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An Española family is suing a repossession agent with a violent criminal history, along with the company that hired him, alleging he and his companions attacked several members of the family a year ago while illegally seizing their van after they defaulted on a high-interest title loan.

Two of the family members had to be taken to a local hospital by ambulance for treatment, according to the complaint, filed recently in state District Court.

Raymond Valdez and Tracy Thomas, a couple of more than 20 years, say in the suit they had used the 2007 Dodge van to take Valdez, who is legally blind, to and from a park-and-ride stop where he caught a bus each day to his state government job.

In 2015, they used the van as collateral to obtain a $1,000 title loan — with a 156 percent interest rate — from the TitleMax branch in Española.

Two years later, “due primarily to extensive repairs the van required,” the complaint says, the couple fell behind on their payments to TitleMax, and the company hired Eric Rivera, 33, of Rivera’s Recovery LLC to take possession of the van.

Around 11 one night in January 2018, the complaint says, the couple were at home with their adult children, son-in-law and grandchildren, when their 7-year-old grandson alerted them about something in the carport. When Valdez went to investigate, he found Rivera, Rivera’s girlfriend and another man attempting to hook up the van to Rivera’s pickup.

Valdez, 56, told Rivera he couldn’t take the van unless he had a court order.

Valdez and Rivera began engaging in a pushing match, the suit says, and then Rivera struck Valdez in the head, knocking him to the ground, where Montgomery continued to strike him.

Jaylyn Valdez came to her father’s aid, trying to pull Rivera off him while screaming for help.

Fernandez-Gurule and James Valdez heard her screams, the suit says, and came outside to find Rivera’s associates had “joined the fray.” Meanwhile, Rivera was striking Valdez in the face and head with a metal baton; when the two younger men attempted to help Valdez, the complaint says, Rivera and his companions beat them as well, splitting Fernandez-Gurule’s skull.

Jaylyn Valdez called police. But when officers arrived, the complaint says, Rivera falsely told them he had a court order authorizing the repossession, and the officers allowed him to leave with the van.

Raymond Valdez and Fernandez-Gurule’s injuries required treatment at a hospital.

“It was an outrageous incident,” the family’s attorney, Richard Rosenstock, said Friday. “But the most outrageous thing of all is the conduct of TitleMax. They hire these people and they know, or they should know, about their background.”

Online court records show Rivera’s criminal record includes charges for attempted murder, aggravated battery and assault on a peace officer.

Rosenstock said the city of Española later paid the family $20,000 to settle the family’s claim that officers should not have allowed Rivera to take the vehicle without a court order.

Rosenstock wrote in the lawsuit that TitleMax has an unwritten policy not to obtain court orders before pursuing repossessions because it has determined it costs less “to deal with citizens who refuse to allow such repossessions and are injured by those hired … to conduct such repossessions” than to obtain the proper paperwork.

TitleMax did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

Rivera also did not respond to a message seeking comment.

One of his arrests arose out of a 2014 incident in which he allegedly threatened to kill a customer of a different local loan company. According to an affidavit for his arrest warrant, Rivera thought the man had stolen his sunglasses.

The attempted murder charge came from a 2012 incident in which Rivera is alleged to have shot a friend in the leg after the man came to Rivera’s house asking for a ride, court records show.

According to the family’s lawsuit, TitleMax demanded $1,900 from them, plus $100 per day in storage fees for the van, following the ordeal. The family couldn’t come up with the money, so they lost the van.

The family spent the rest of the winter without transportation to work, school functions, doctor’s appointments and the grocery store, the complaint says, forcing Raymond Valdez to walk two miles to the bus stop every day to get to work.

The family seeks an unspecified amount in damages from TitleMax and Rivera, including compensation for past and future medical bills, as well as pain and suffering.

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