Cockrell Hill's Police Chief Resigns After Investigation Finds He Improperly Sold Impounded Cars

Categories: City Hall

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As a general rule, it's probably best to avoid driving through Cockrell Hill. Police in the tiny hamlet, a .6-square-mile splotch in the middle of Oak Cliff, wrote 7,890 traffic tickets last year, nearly two for each of its residents.

That's doubly true if you lack proof of insurance. Each month, the city impounds 200 to 300 cars, according to an investigation conducted by Mayor Luis Cerrera and reported last night by CBS 11's Jason Allen.

That's an insane number for a town of Cockrell Hill's size, but it wasn't his department's penchant for towing cars that prompted Police Chief Michael Sellers to resign yesterday. It was because he was bypassing the legally required public auction and selling some of the seized vehicles from the department's front window.

See also: The Biggest Speed-Trap Cities in North Texas

Assistant City Manager Brett Haney says the cars that were sold had been legally abandoned, the city having received no response to certified letters sent to the title and lien holders of the vehicles. He describes the front-window sales as "an isolated incident" and says there is no indication that Sellers or anyone else pocketed any of the proceeds, which were "on par with what we get generally" for other vehicles sold at auction.

"There were six vehicles, two mopeds and four cars [according to Cerrera's investigation], and the city has responded by turning it over to the DA. As far as we're concerned, we did our due diligence."

Whether or not prosecutors decide that Sellers did anything criminal, the episode raises some serious questions about law enforcement in Cockrell Hill.

Activist Carlos Quintanilla says the department intentionally targets Hispanic immigrants, who often lack a driver's license and thus have their car title in another person's name. The city's previous rule, which the City Council changed last night, said that only the title holder could claim an impounded car.

There's also the sheer number. Once again, for a town of 4,200, impounding 2,400 to 3,600 cars is insane. Even if, as Haney says, that estimate is too high, "a misnomer" on the part of the mayor ("I would conservatively estimate 150.") Cockrell Hill is impounding a helluva lot of cars.

Haney says that's is a byproduct of the city's efforts to maintain public safety. Impounding cars "is not a policy goal at all. It's an attempt on the police department to remove uninsured drivers. Me and you are both at risk if we ever get in an accident with an uninsured motorist. The idea is to get them off the road."

Public safety was also the justification for Cockrell PD's policy of letting command staff take legally abandoned cars home with them. (They couldn't take the squad cars because the department needs all four of them for patrol.) That way the chief and his deputies would "be able to respond to emergency situations," Haney said. The City Council changed that policy last night as well.

This is the second time in six years that Cockrell Hill's police chief has resigned following a mayoral investigation. Sellers got his job in 2008 after Catherine Smit quit amid allegations that she gave special treatment to an officer suspected of lying on his job application.

(Correction: The original version of the post incorrectly says Smit was accused of lying on her job application; the questions surrounding her resignation concerned the hiring of another officer, Troy Wayne Willmon.)

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.


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31 comments
passard
passard

Cockrell Hill is nothing but crooked cops, they are just a revenue stream because the property taxes are not enough to support a police department, they should be covered by the sheriffs department or absorbed in to Dallas. Cockrell Hill has high crime because the police are shaking down people rather than solving crimes.

enahcs1
enahcs1

Ok, how about this.  An intoxicated driver wipes out your family in an auto accident, then flees the scene.  There is no paperwork in the car to tie the suspect to the crime only the the license plate attached to the bumper.  The police conduct an investigation and find out that the car is still registered to the original owner and he sold the car 5 years ago.  Further investigation shows the car had at least 5 subsequent owners since and there is no knowing who committed the crime because the suspect never went through the proper channels (once again) to get the car legal.  You liberals just need to shut up and think for once.  Also, Cockrell Hill is pretty much entirely Hispanic.  They are the ones on the road around that area.  And guess what?  If the area was primarily Angelo, the majority of tickets would be given to whites.  Funny how that works, huh?

SpeakTruth
SpeakTruth

Bottom line, City of Cockrell Hill Chief of Police knows what he did is illegal, that's why he resigned.  He needs to take his police friends that he brought from Irving Police Dept with him alone with the code inspector, Hernandez who is a total joke. We need a Chief of Police, police officers, code inspector, city council men and women that walks the talk and respects all regardless of the color of your skin. Who abide by the law and not carry their position on their shoulders and apply the law to their own families as well....no favors when it comes to the law. 


We need police officers who stop someone for a reason vs. lying as to why they stopped them.  


In addition, we need a new Mayor. Mayor Carrera does nothing for the city or it's citizens....it's evident by the current situation with the chief of police, the streets, no sidewalks, sewer line problems, water problems and so on and so on....BUT, he has plenty of money for a beautiful house in front of the elementary school.  No wonder the City of Cockrell Hill is a joke to so many. It's embarrassing to the citizens and to all law enforcement to have a leader like Mayor Carrera...it starts from the top...set the example for the rest to follow....otherwise, corruption is the outcome.


The citizens of Cockrell Hill would respect them if they applied all of the above.  Respect is earned not just given because of your position. Walk the talk folks.  In all fairness, their are some police officers who are not corrupt and abide by the law....those I respect and admire.

DawnAnonymous
DawnAnonymous

It is my understanding that these sales were to the indigent. Not buddy buddy. As much as it is not right, I can understand. Not to mention how blown out of proportion this has become. I like our raggedy streets. It keeps the speed of traffic down, which provides a safer, more nastalgic atmosphere. Small towns are instrumental for preserving history. It's a neat lil place, in my opinion, and I like living here.

lucille
lucille

Cockrell Hill went wet with both liquor and beer before Oak Cliff became wet with beer and wine. They have to make that money somehow. Since beer isn't bringing in enough like they thought it would. I can see the liquor is still selling, but some of those beer stores had to shut down. Oak Cliff people don't have to go to Cockrell Hill anymore for beer. They can buy at the grocery store. Cockrell Hill streets do suck big time. I don't even know why they are a city all to themselves. It is so tiny, from what I understand it's the last strongholds of "good old white boys" where the "family" still is making a killing on different scams they are pulling on anybody that drives through there. They will pull you over with no reason making anything up and then ticket you for CA$H. It's a business for them. Crooked like any other government entity but with some of the good old boys still running the show from behind. They are not as boisterous as before. It needs to be faded out and it needs to be part of Oak Cliff and the city gooberment there needs to be taken apart, and sent packing right behind their Chief.

DawnAnonymous
DawnAnonymous

Do people commenting here, misspell consistently on purpose?


DawnAnonymous
DawnAnonymous

Honk Honk! WRONG about your profiling. I am a Caucasian female, blonde-curly hair, green eyes and I was given traffic tickets, my car was impounded and was also sold at auction by the Cockrell Hill Police Department. There are more than half-a-dozen small towns in Northeast Texas that drivers have to "walk on glass" to get through because you will get stopped if you sneeze to the left. I don't blame them for trying to keep order in their territory. Maintaining any sort of peace in a tiny town that is nestled inside of the actual city of Dallas, not to mention Oak Cliff, has got to keep you on you toes...maybe I should have said TOWS, hehehe.

larachris06
larachris06

What they need to do is fix there streets there are reduculios they have been like this for years since I was 12 years old I can remember there streets full of pot holes im now 27 and there bumpy and missing concrete u literally have to drive 20 miles a hour like if ur in a school zone! But some how every year they have new police cars wtf! COCKRELL HILL IS CROOKED ! You get a ticket for forget to put on ur signal when changeing lanes no warning

annff69
annff69

Hickory Creek is another town that might have a higher than average ticket-to-resident ratio.

physics2010
physics2010

Typically having the title and a notarized letter of authorization is enough.

JSSS
JSSS

"who often lack a driver's license" -- if you are driving a car without a valid driver's license (or without valid insurance), the car should be impounded unless a licensed (and insured) driver is with you and can legally drive the car.  Why should the cops knowingly let an unlicensed (or uninsured) driver drive away in the vehicle?


"and thus have their car title in another person's name. The city's previous rule, which the City Council changed last night, said that only the title holder could claim an impounded car."  Why should the city release the car to anyone other than the title holder? How does the city know that Joe Blow is authorized to take the car from the city impound yard if Joe is not the owner of the car? Can you imagine the outcry if a legitimate owner went to the impound yard and the cops had let some random person take the car?


I see nothing wrong with either of these policies. Now, is there an issue with how they were applied? I don't have enough facts to be able to opine one way or the way. But I applaud the policies and wish more cities had and enforced them.

physics2010
physics2010

Perhaps they are just targeting all Hispanics, instead of just the Hispanic immigrants, in which case you can prove racial profiling by reviewing their almost 8000 traffic tickets. As far as towing the cars of people without insurance, they can keep doing it.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

what kind of cars, and who were they sold to, buddy buddy deals I bet.  

gabbahey
gabbahey

Cockrell Hill is a joke of a town. The city's thieving of "abandoned vehicles" and the sheer number of traffic tickets should tell you something about the city government - traffic citations are their livelihood, and "thus", perpetuating their own existence.


If they were serious about maintaining public safety, they'd fix some of their roads, they are probably the worst roads in Dallas County. 




lebowski300
lebowski300

"As far as we're concerned, we did our due diligence.", said by every cop to every illegal thing they ever did. They should make completion of the PCL-R mandatory in the police academies.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

The part about getting uninsured and unlicensed drivers off the road is absolutely 100% correct, and if they're stopping a bunch of drivers that fit that description then more power to them. 

Now this being Texas and them being cops, the other part is not surprising at all.

wcvemail
wcvemail

The four letters in the word "thus" completely change the meaning of this sentence, and present false information to the public. "...lack a driver's license and thus have their car title in another person's name."

One can be named on a car title without a driver's license. No license AND no title in one's name should raise LE curiosity, but they are not otherwise related. Why is that important? Because it shows ignorance of two of the most common legal statuses in Texas -- licensing and titling -- and will mislead the public. Why is that important? Because the public may think that a license is required for a title, and thus fail to get either. If that's the case, then insurance is not going to happen, and uninsured motorists are the basic problem.

For all our snark, this is still a news publication.

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

It has now liquor sales so there are reasons to venture there .

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

The Code is clear -- they can only auction abandoned vehicles, and then only with the proper notice to the public (not just the titleholder).


http://law.onecle.com/texas/transportation/683.014.00.html


Remember, this is a taking under the constitution, which means there is Due Process involved.  What the chief did was, legally and morally, theft.  I'm sure that if "I only stole a few cars" is a valid defense, GTA cases in Texas are going to get real interesting.

physics2010
physics2010

@JSSS  Well it would sort of be nice if the family member who was driving the car could pick it up. 

gm0622
gm0622 topcommenter

I saw what you did there.

JSSS
JSSS

@physics2010 @JSSS  How do you know it is a family member? Should you assume the same last name = family member? Bring along a family picture? About the only exception I could see is if someone had a notarized power of attorney signed by the owner allowing the person to retrieve the vehicle.

wcvemail
wcvemail

@JSSS @physics2010  
Yep, TxDMV (through the counties' tax assessor-collectors) make it easy and cheap, if not free, to assign responsibility to another person. All sorts of forms available, most of which can be completed online. But that's a moot point for this population. If they're not going to get a driver's license, proper title to begin with, or even insurance (can be paid cash at a store-front, all over), then they're not going to formalize anything else.

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