Memphis Impound Lot worker talks about how a body went undetected for 49 days

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Vehicles pile up at the Memphis Impound Lot, but last December what was inside one of them sent shock waves as the body of Bardo Hernandez sat in a van on the lot unnoticed for 49 days.

Now for the first time, a person who says he works at the lot, but doesn't want to be identified, is talking about it only to WREG.

"With the junk that was in that vehicle, it was very hard to see the body being that close to the back of the seats. It kind of the body was kind of camouflaged being in there with all the junk."

He says lot workers usually inventory every vehicle but not this time.

"Staff don't feel comfortable with entering some of these vehicles," he said. "If it is a vehicle that is going to the Crime Scene, the only thing that we are to do is take pictures of that vehicle around the outside and basically from the glass."

He says a manager put the van in rotation to be sold at auction, if it wasn't picked up by the owner.

That owner made the grisly discovery.

This worker fears talking could cost him his job, but his biggest fear is that nothing will change at the lot he says is plagued with problems.

"Safety violations, harassment, and just favoritism among management and supervisors," he said.

WREG has reported on complaints at the lot and the thousands the city has paid out in theft claims.

But this employee says it's not the day-to-day staff but managers who are the problem.

WREG found a reprimand issued to one manager for letting her relative browse the lot and go in vehicles. That same worker was also suspended for taking cash from a lot charity collection.

"They had it so twisted," Rickey Shotwell said.

Shotwell was a supervisor fired in 2011 for allowing people to take items from vehicles. He was charged with taking possession of one of those items, a fishing rod.

But Shotwell says he was a scapegoat.

"We all got stuff and we used it if we need it inside the office," he said.

He says the rest was trashed. But he also points the finger at managers,

"You had other bosses. The big people."

Robert Bain was a supervisor at the lot until he was fired in 2017. He says it was for speaking out about upper management.

"Most of what is wrong with the Impound Lot is well known, well understood by management and it has been condoned by senior and executive management," Bain said.

Bain complained of cronyism bullying and malfeasance.

His personnel file says he was fired for not following the chain of command when he sent emails to the police director and other city leaders complaining about the security risk at the lot and management indifference.

He claims a back gate that was normally locked on the lot was suddenly mandated to be unlocked, opening up the avenue to theft.

"There are police reports where people have come on to the lot to steal parts."

Bain's personnel file says he was fired for reducing impound lot storage fees. He says people were being victimized so he eliminated the fees.

"Because they can't often times afford to get their vehicle out, then the city takes ownership of the vehicle and sells it."

Many citizens have complained for years about the hundreds of dollars in storage fees.

The Memphis City Council has since changed how fees are levied.

But Robert Bain has been pushing for more scrutiny.

"I went to then candidate Jim Strickland, talked about the impound lot and was promised an audit. That's what I asked for. Don't take my word for anything, do an audit."

But Mayor Jim Strickland denies knowing about any major problems at the lot.

Police Director Mike Rallings says problems are small in comparison.

"We have supervisors out there. We look into issues, we pay attention. It's a very large operation out there. When you look at the totality of the operation, there are very few instances that come up."

But Bain, who still talks to his former coworkers says problems still fester.

"I think there are significant wrong doings and they are condoned in high places."