WREG uncovers complaints about illegal towing, booting

MEMPHIS, Tenn.--Two men are off the job after one of them allegedly threatened a customer with a gun during what police called an illegal tow.

That incident is just one of dozens of complaints WREG uncovered about towing companies in Memphis.

The city says new rules should better protect customers. Meanwhile, one of the area's biggest towers claims the city is part of the problem.

A North Memphis woman told WREG about how she recorded video of her interaction with workers from PB&J Towing this summer.

"They didn`t give me a receipt, they refused to give me a receipt. I had to take my phone out and record them with my money in they hand."

In the video, you can see and hear the woman ask the driver, "You just said I can contact y'all and say that I just paid for the drop fee, I can get my receipt?

The driver replied, "This money right here is going to the boss."

The woman clarifies, "That`s going to the boss?"

The driver replied, "Yes."

The woman who didn't want to show her face on television, explained she'd stopped the driver from towing her vehicle at her apartment complex, Goodwill Village.

She said she paid him a drop fee, in cash, and he left. However, shortly afterwards she said the tow truck driver returned and blocked her car.

What allegedly happened next wasn't captured on video, but on a police report.

She told NewsChannel 3, "Words was exchanged, I`m steady asking them to move away from me, I`m not feeling safe, before I knew it, it`s a gun being pulled!"

WREG asked, "What did he say?"

She said the man who pulled the gun told her,  "'B, I`ll shoot you.' Yeah he called me out my name, told me he`d shoot me and I had my four-year-old daughter right with me."

According to the police report, it was the worker on the passenger side that pulled a gun on her.

"At that point, I was in fear of my life. I didn`t have nothing to protect myself with. All I know was two, grown, fully grown men, blocking me in after I did my part, I did my part and gave them the drop fee!"

In addition to documenting an aggravated assault call, the police officer who responded to the scene, actually filed a towing complaint with the city permits office about the incident, saying PB&J never called in the tow as required by law.

"Come to find out, it was an illegal tow, they didn`t even know nothing about it!"

The incident involving the PB&J worker allegedly pulling a gun on a customer, was just one of the complaints WREG uncovered about towing and booting companies in Memphis.

We filed a public records request in July for all complaints and disciplinary action taken against such companies.

The city sent WREG a total 38 complaints. The data did not include disciplinary action. The city never fulfilled that portion of the request.

PB&J and J Towing, one of the largest companies in town, topped the list in both categories.

Secure Assets accounted for half of the booting complaints.

Mace's Towing also had multiple complaints and violations.

Records reveal at one of Mace's locations, the owner refused to let city workers in to conduct an inspection, and at another, the company was reportedly "using a bus as a designated business office".

Eight of the PB&J complaints, including the one involving the gun incident, were presented at a hearing three weeks ago at the city permits office where WREG couldn't take a camera inside.

It was a meeting the alleged victim says she didn't know about until WREG told her.

She said PB&J's owner, Patrick Lawrence, had just contacted her.

"He told me he fired the person who was driving the vehicle and the person who pulled the gun out on me, and he gave me my money back."

Lawrence dodged WREG's camera at the hearing, but during two, recent phone conversations said he needed to wait until the
pending complaints, along with other litigation involving the city, was resolved before speaking.

He reiterated the employees were terminated, but says the city didn't notify him of the woman's complaint, or others until a week before the hearing.

Lawrence says he believes formal complaints filed with the city could be resolved much sooner if they'd notify companies in a timely manner.

Permits Administrator Aubrey Howard wouldn't discuss PB&J during our interview since he hadn't ruled on the complaints heard at the hearing.

He said in general, when complaints are filed, the department investigates to see if the tow or booting was legal, then gets a response from the company, sometimes resolving the complaint quickly.

If there is a violation, the city can issue a fine, suspend or even revoke the company's license.

Howard says they're currently in the process of reviewing the towing ordinance and the city's authority to crack down on companies that break the rules.

"Once that resolves, you probably will see faster, quicker and stronger penalties when violations occur."

Those changes that can't come fast enough for customers like the woman, who says she feared for her life, all over a tow.

WREG asked, "What do you think they should be doing?"

She replied, "Fining them, something, when they threaten people, jail time. Shutting down some of they businesses. Because if they do it once, they`re going to continue to do it, they`re gonna feel like they can get away with it, so why should they abide by any laws."

Customers who need to file a complaint about a possible illegal tow or boot should call 901-636-6711.