Retrieving stolen property is an honest goal of police forces everywhere, but when it comes to classic cars, the story can sometimes get muddled. Alabama man Thomas Hadley has owned a 1968 Chevrolet Camaro since 2016. He has a legitimate title for the car. It was seized after authorities claimed the vehicle's VIN matched one reported stolen in Tennessee in 2003. It could've been an open-and-shut case of theft and bad luck on Hadley's part, but it's not quite so straightforward. A judge has now ordered the car to be returned to Hadley, but not all of the law enforcement agencies involved are playing ball.
This case is a mess of legalese, but Hadley's case seems strong. The actions of the Baldwin County, Alabama Sheriff’s Office and other related authorities seem difficult to justify in contrast.
As local news station FOX10 reports, it all started last month when Hadley was visited by the Alabama Department of Revenue. Agents claimed that the VIN of a car registered in Tennessee matched the number for Hadley’s Camaro. An investigation allegedly found that Hadley's vehicle was stolen from its original owner in Kansas two decades ago. Not so fast, though.
Hadley purchased the vehicle legitimately seven years ago. His attorney, Scott Hunter claims that's "well beyond the five-year window for a receiving stolen property charge." Likewise, as with other restored classic cars, Hadley's vehicle has several VIN numbers on it from different cars. The number on the firewall used to identify it may only be a piece of the original vehicle stolen in 2003, Hunter claims.
Hadley's son, who is a lawyer, refused to give the car to authorities without an order from a judge. He moved the vehicle to his home, but soon after, the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant to retrieve it. The car was likely towed from the son's home while attorney Hunter was at the local courthouse for a hearing where a judge ruled the car was "seized by extra-judicial action." He ordered the Camaro returned to Hadley, but it was already back in Tennessee with its "original owner" by then. A needless mess.
Now, authorities seem to be backtracking. The local district attorney who approved the search warrant—in which police allegedly said they were "looking for evidence of a crime"—refused to comment to FOX10. In a statement, the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office said it "recognizes the fact that the person who possessed the vehicle in Baldwin County sustained a loss" and that "the Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s Office are currently reviewing the judge’s decision and may approach the court to request a reconsideration." As to why action was taken so swiftly, that remains unclear.
"They took it upon themselves to go take this car because they felt it was the right thing to do. But they did so without any legal authority," Hunter said. The cops may have been trying to do the right thing, but they should've kept their powder dry until all the dust had settled. A stolen classic car is a serious thing, but a 20-year-old case with multiple owners involved is not something that should be rushed.
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