Indiana, PA - Indiana County

Woman sues borough, police, auto repair shop

by RANDY WELLS rwells@indianagazette.net on February 11, 2012 1:45 AM

An Indiana woman has claimed in a federal lawsuit that her constitutional rights were violated when the Indiana Borough Police Department allegedly and falsely accused her of crimes to help an Indiana auto repair shop owner who does business with the borough.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Allison McCoy-Jones, of South Sixth Street, this week in the U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh.

Named as defendants are Indiana Borough, the Indiana police department, Police Chief William Sutton, Indiana police officers Michael Rhoades and Wesley Hite, and Michael Ziner, operator of Import Auto Works, in Indiana.

Ziner was contracted to provide towing services for the borough.

According to the suit, McCoy-Jones' 2003 Nissan Murano was parked when it was rear-ended by a speeding vehicle in November 2008. Her car was repaired but later broke down and was towed to Import Auto, where a replacement engine was installed. McCoy-Jones later was also informed her car would need a replacement transmission at an estimated cost of more than $7,000.

What followed was a protracted dispute over whether McCoy-Jones would have to pay for the repairs or if the repair work would be covered by her insurance or the vehicle's warranty.

According to the suit, McCoy-Jones told Ziner to go ahead with repairs only if an insurance carrier authorized them.

McCoy-Jones later received a voicemail message from Ziner that he had "found a cheaper way to get it on the road," that the car was repaired and that he would leave the keys under the car's floor mat so McCoy-Jones could pick it up at her convenience, according to court papers.

She retrieved the car in the middle of the night on March 27, 2010, and was later informed her insurance company was refusing to pay for the repairs.

The dispute over payment for the repair work was still going on on Feb. 7, 2011, when McCoy-Jones was arrested and charged with theft of services and fraudulent removal of a vehicle from a garage.

The charges were later dismissed and expunged and McCoy-Jones paid Ziner $3,000 in a settlement.

But, the suit alleges, more damage had been done.

"She should never have been arrested over something like this," said Pittsburgh attorney Robert Owsiany, who filed the suit. Owsiany claims Ziner should have filed a civil complaint for payment with a district magistrate.

"Somehow he (Ziner) got the police involved," Owsiany said. "Why the police should become a collection agency for Ziner … is entirely improper."

"Indiana Borough, its police department and the individual officer defendants knew, or should have known, that there was absolutely no basis for charging (McCoy-Jones) with unlawfully removing her vehicle," the suit contends.

Owsiany also said that there was never any intent on the part of McCoy-Jones to deceive or defraud anyone, as evidenced by the many letters that were sent back and forth to insurance companies as she tried to arrange payment for the repairs.

Details of the arrest, based on a police department news release, were published in local newspapers and will remain on the Internet "forever," Owsiany said. As a result, according to the suit, McCoy-Jones suffered mental anguish, loss of income, damage to her reputation in the community, embarrassment, and her career has been "curtailed and sabotaged."

The suit requests a jury trial and $75,000 in compensatory and punitive damages as well as legal costs.

Police Chief Sutton said Friday he had not seen the suit and could not comment on behalf of the police department.

Indiana Borough solicitor Wayne Kablack and Ziner did not return calls seeking comment.

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