Residents and community supporters have taken up a battle with a towing company and its predatory practices in a local El Monte shopping plaza. Albert’s Towing Company has reportedly been preying on customers of the Valley Blvd and Ramona Blvd intersection plaza. According to witnesses, the towing company has especially been targeting low-income, and presumed undocumented shoppers.
“They are taking paying customers’ cars,” explained local resident, Nicolas Tomas. Tomas explained that numerous victims presented their store receipts, but were still forced to pay Albert’s Towing for their impounded vehicles.
Tomas attempted to help one of the victims last week by filming a towing in progress just before being assaulted by tow truck driver, Warren Eugene Ellis.
During the assault, “Nic” had his phone snatched by Ellis, who would end up confessing his actions after he put the phone in his pocket without turning off the recording device. As Ellis continued to confess to the assault, he acknowledges knowing Nic and his mother from a previous encounter.
“Hey that bitch on YouTube, what’s her last name, Tomas? - that filmed me?” questions Ellis as the phone remained in his pocket, “I’m out here [inaudible] cars, right? And her motherfucking kid gets in my face. I fucking picked his phone out of his hand - so I got his phone in my back pocket. So he grabs some other guy’s phone and he starts filming me, so I just fucking grab him, and say ‘you don’t understand’, so I fucking toss him. He fucking hit the ground went flopping like a little [inaudible]…so I might be going to jail, I’ll let you know.”
Ellis was not arrested, despite being cited for Penal Codes 242 and 487.2, simple assault or battery and theft or “purse snatch” respectively.
Albert’s Towing Company is on contract with El Monte Police and are frequently used to tow unlicensed drivers’ vehicles during city checkpoints. It is during one of these checkpoints that Nic’s mother, Veronica Tomas-Castro, recorded footage of Ellis charging at her for recording towings during the checkpoint.
DUI or “sobriety” checkpoints have been a topic of debate for many years, especially since they are seen as a disproportionate burden on “undocumented” drivers who are unable to obtain a driver’s license. In recent years, this would lead to many unlicensed drivers losing their vehicles to mandatory impounds and exaggerated storage fees..
According to El Monte police Lieutenant, Eric Stanley, at least three cars were impounded and fifteen people were cited for driving without a license during their last scheduled checkpoint.
After the assault by Ellis, another officer who was called out to the plaza questioned Nic.
“How close were you to him that he had to push you?” asked the officer on scene, whose only response to the Tomas’ complaints was, “That means you’re here causing a problem and you’re not here for any other reason.”
Nic proceeded to describe vehicle code violations on behalf of the towing company to which the officer crudely replied, “I don’t think you’re interpreting it correctly. This parking lot is for parking of customers of the store.”
Albert’s Towing impounds had continued through the week and the tactics were more apparent for community supporters who started watching over the plaza parking lot. They reported that the towing company uses watch people, or “spotters,” who claim to be sent by property management and who label vehicles by placing simple sticky-notes on their windshields once they’ve deemed the vehicle “tow-able.”
As numerous victims continued to have their vehicles towed, most of them plaza customers, more of them had stories to share in regards with their relationship to Albert’s towing. One victim had resorted to walking the two-mile stretch to retrieve his vehicle, with market bag still in hand.
Tomas-Castro would begin documenting victims’ misfortunes as they shared their testimonies:
“They fuckin took my truck because they didn't see me walk into AutoZone on their so-called camera. My lady had a dentist appointment and we were only in
there twenty fuckin minutes. Come out and its gone. I pulled it out the same day $275, fuck Albert’s."
"...My plan was to go to AutoZone, but instead decided to go to 99-cent store first. I parked by AutoZone and when I tried to pay I realized I didn't have my debit card so I couldn't buy any thing. When I got back to my car, it was gone! They towed my car and said some off duty officer saw me crossing the street to the court! I have no business in the court I had to pay $275 to get it out I called the property owner and he said he didn't care and hung up on me!"
"My family has had a tough time with this company before. They towed my brother's car on a Friday at 4:30pm and supposedly closed at 5pm for the weekend. Even though he was at the office before 5pm they said it was too late to process and he'd have to wait till Monday, racking in 3 day fees that by Monday would cost $1000 to take out. We gave up on the car cause who can come up with that kind of money that fast? But to give up the car, we had to pay a pink slip transfer, so even though they took his car, refused to help him during business hours, we still ended up having to pay them just to let them keep our car."
Some of these towing victims reported paying amounts of upwards of $280 in “cash only” to recover their “stolen” vehicles. El Monte’s city website states, however, that a “stored vehicle” for arrests or ”impounded for driving with a suspended, revoked, or unlicensed driver”, run costs of up to $240.
Earlier this week on Monday, Nic was confronted by one of the “spotters” holding a knife. The knife was found on the watch person by police but refused to write a report, claiming Tomas was out to “victimize” himself.
The following day, dozens of residents and supporters presented their concerns to the city council meeting that took place at city hall, which happens to border the shopping center in question, along with the El Monte police department.
“I believe it's the police department,” argued Veronica during the council meeting, “those are police department signs, it has the police phone number on it…I want to know who gives this man the authorization to go and stop cars.”
One of the latest victims has reported being told by Albert’s towing that it is El Monte Police Department giving the orders to tow the vehicles, and not property management.
With not much of a response from the council and as both Albert’s Towing and El Monte police place blame on each other, residents and community supporters have directed their efforts in taking direct action by warning potential victims to avoid parking in the plaza.
“They [police and towing company] are known to do the checkpoints, and so they are the same people, with the same intentions, with the same motives,” shared Nicolas, “They’re targeting the poor, lower income people, the people who are already handicapped, who are undocumented and taking their cars…they’re stealing cars, its auto theft., unregulated auto theft - its like lawless land for them.”
The Rebel Press contacted Albert’s Towing and El Monte Police Department for comment, but as of publishing date has not received a response.