Stu Bykofsky: Stolen car in the city: A civics lesson for the teach

Rick Naughton shows some of the damage caused by bureaucracy and callousness when his car was stolen.
Rick Naughton shows some of the damage caused by bureaucracy and callousness when his car was stolen.
Posted: August 26, 2010

YOU MIGHT call it irony that Rick Naughton, a high-school teacher specializing in civics and government, got thoroughly screwed over by elements of Philadelphia's civic government.

"The system worked against me," says the 32-year-old Center City resident.

It started July 19, when he parked his car - a less-than-cherry '99 Toyota Corolla - at 11th and Spruce, near his home. The car has a residential parking sticker and often remains parked for days because Naughton likes to walk.

He never leaves anything in it and always locks the car. A native of Scranton, he's lived in Center City long enough to learn common-sense precautions.

After dinner out on July 23, a Friday, he noticed his car wasn't there but thought it might have been moved, as sometimes happens, when street repairs are made.

"I didn't panic," he told me.

He should have. Maybe not panic, but call 9-1-1 to report the car stolen. His failure to do that trapped him in the system's hamster wheel that brought him verbal abuse and cost him $1,400.

Actually, he did call the 6th Police District, in Chinatown, that night, to ask if his car had been moved, but police couldn't help him because - he's embarrassed to admit - he didn't know his license-plate number. He had to wait until Monday to call PennDOT to get it.

When he got the information, he called and learned that his car was in the Philadelphia Parking Authority lot on Columbus Avenue. He went there, but couldn't retrieve his car because it had been towed at 5:45 a.m. Saturday in West Philly. That's when Naughton realized that his Toyota had been stolen. That's also when he entered the bureaucratic maze.

According to a police report, the driver's name was Michael Watson, 41. When he couldn't produce a license, the cop called for a tow truck.

To get his car back, Naughton was told that he'd have to produce a stolen-car police report and his registration, which he kept in the car. The registration was gone.

Naughton called 9-1-1 to report the stolen car and to have police check it before he took it, fearing there might be contraband in it.

Officer Reigert Pone arrived, but the lot supervisor refused to allow the cop to inspect the car. Pone was helpful, took a report and gave Naughton advice. "He's one of the good guys," says Naughton. "He helped me."

The next morning, he called the 16th District, in West Philadelphia, where a cop had the car towed in Operation Live Stop. That's a towing that occurs when a driver is unable to produce a license, a registration or proof of insurance. The officer answering the phone at the 16th offered him no information, just some lip when Naughton told her that he had filed a stolen-car report.

This became a sticking point several times because the rules say that you can't file a stolen-car report after it has been recovered, something no one explained to Naughton. No one offered him an alternative. Everybody's too busy, I guess.

He went to Traffic Court later that morning and was told that he could hire a lawyer for $150 to help get his registration papers. He got the papers.

A Traffic Court judge told Naughton that although he couldn't prove he wasn't driving, he'd dismiss the fine for driving without a license, but kept a $75 paperwork fee.

He was told that he could appeal at the PPA's Bureau of Administrative Adjudication, at 9th and Filbert, but would need a stolen-car police report. He also was told that he could go to the impound lot to get his car. Naughton took a cab there, only to be told that the towing and storage fee - $224.80 - had to be paid at 9th and Filbert, so back he went. That's $20 for cabs, each way.

He returned to the lot with his receipt, but still wanted police to inspect the car. When he called the 6th District, where the car had been parked when stolen, Naughton says, the cop on the phone "became enraged" because Naughton had talked with Pone, who took a report after the 9-1-1 call. The 6th District cop hotly threatened to charge Naughton with filing a false police report.

Shaken, Naughton called 9-1-1, which sent two cops, one of them being the helpful Pone, who told Naughton that he had filed his report, which mysteriously never made it into the system.

Pone inspected the car, and that's when Naughton saw that it had been damaged that day, between his first and last visits. The lot supervisor said that another driver picking up her car had done the damage and that PPA did have her info. The damage is estimated at $900.

That evening, Naughton and a friend went to the 6th to file a stolen-car report. Two disagreeable officers there accused him of lying, but allowed Naughton to file a vandalism report. This is a truncated version of what happened to Naughton.

"The police in the 6th District are so rude, so condescending, so outright mean, no one should have to put up with this," Naughton told me, and I agreed.

So I asked 6th District Capt. Brian Korn to meet with Naughton. He did, along with Lt. Pasquale Agozzino, for 90 minutes.

Naughton emerged from the meeting satisfied.

Both were "very friendly," Naughton says, and they apologized for the nasty behavior of their officers.

"And they did what I wanted more than anything," Naughton says. "They gave me an official report saying that, in fact, my car had been stolen."

Why did Naughton have to be tortured and abused to get it?

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