Utah Impounds Tow-Truck Drivers' Liberties

Affiliate: ACLU of Utah
July 16, 1999 12:00 am

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SALT LAKE CITY — Despite civil liberties concerns, Salt Lake County became the first in their state to investigate the backgrounds of the tow truck drivers who transport cars from accidents and crime scenes, the Salt Lake Tribune reported today.

Civil libertarians say the clampdown that has already grounded a handful of drivers who used to be eligible for law-enforcement jobs punishes them twice for their crimes.

“One would hope that when people have done their time and paid the price for whatever they’ve done, that they could get out of prison and expect to be able to have a job and support themselves and a family,” Carol Gnade, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah told the Tribune.

According to the paper, six drivers have filed complaints with the ACLU, saying the background checks have eliminated a big chunk of their business and eligible employee pool.

Law-enforcement tow jobs account for thousands of calls to towing companies each year. Three years ago, the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office racked up 7,000 tow-truck trips.

Kevin Purdie, one of the drivers punished by the new rules, told the paper that he thought the policy was unfair. Twelve years ago, Purdie, then 19, served three years in jail and opened a towing company with a partner when he got out. He has been responding to law-enforcement calls for eight years.

“There’s nothing else on my record since,” Purdie told the paper. “For all intents and purposes, I’ve been rehabilitated. I own my own business and pay my bills.”

But Purdie will no longer be allowed to tow cars for the Sheriff’s office, his biggest client.

The paper noted that Salt Lake County sheriff’s Sgt. Larry Maxwell couldn’t cite a single problem from the county’s previous use of tow-truck drivers with criminal records. But West Valley City, Murray and the Utah Highway Patrol are expected to adopt the same restrictions, with other agencies to follow.

Gnade told the paper that the ACLU will ask law-enforcement agencies to reconsider the policy.

In 1996, the ACLU fought a double-jeopardy rule in Minnesota that would have used background checks to deny some citizens the right to vote. Read the release at /news/n103196c.html.

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