The Justice Department has reached an agreement with the City of San Antonio, Texas to resolve allegations that the city violated federal law by illegally selling at least 227 vehicles belonging to service members between 2011 and 2019, without obtaining court orders.
The Justice Department’s investigation was prompted by the complaint of Air Force Staff Sgt. Paula Rangel, who alleged her vehicle had been towed and auctioned off while she was deployed to Afghanistan in 2016. Rangel learned that her vehicle had been impounded at a city facility in August, 2016, and she and her military legal assistance attorney called the facility on several occasion to try to arrange for the release of the vehicle, according to the complaint filed Thursday in federal court in San Antonio. A proposed settlement agreement was also filed Thursday. It must be approved by the court.
The complaint alleged the city violated the rights of service members under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.
On Sept. 21, 2016, the operator of the facility sold Rangel’s vehicle at auction for $6,600, without obtaining a court order, the complaint alleges. She still owed about $19,000 on the vehicle loan. Employees at the storage facility refused to release the vehicle to members of Rangel’s military unit — including Rangel’s first sergeant — and wouldn’t allow them to remove her personal property and military equipment from the vehicle, according to the complaint.
The city owns the vehicle storage facility, but the facility’s vehicle storage and vehicle auction operations are conducted by a private contractor on behalf of the city, according to the court document. The city was the only named defendant.
Officials with the city of San Antonio did not immediately comment. The proposed settlement agreement states that the parties have agreed to resolve the claims against the city “to avoid costly and protracted litigation.”
“We are pleased that the city has worked cooperatively with the department to reach a settlement that will compensate all the service members who lost their vehicles and will provide additional protections for the thousands of service members stationed in and around San Antonio,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.