SAN ANTONIO – The city of San Antonio towed and auctioned a vehicle belonging to an Air Force staff sergeant while she was deployed to Afghanistan, federal officials said.
According to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice, the car belonging to Staff Sgt. Paula Rangel was among at least 227 vehicles belonging to members of the military that were sold at auction by the city between 2011 and 2019 without obtaining the required court orders, which is in violation of the Service Members Civil Relief Act.
Federal officials launched an investigation after getting a complaint from Rangel and her military legal assistance attorney. According to officials, Rangel and her lawyer tried to get her car out of the city’s Growdon Road Vehicle Storage Facility, but employees refused to release the car. The employees also didn’t allow Rangel to remove her personal property and military equipment from the vehicle. On Sept. 21, 2016, the city, through its contractual agent, UR Vehicle Management Solutions, sold the vehicle at auction for $6,600, without obtaining the court order required by the SCRA.
Rangel’s complaint led to the discovery of dozens of other vehicles being held at the pound and auctioned, officials said.
On Thursday, the city of San Antonio and the U.S. Department of Justice reached an agreement in which the city must pay $47,000 to compensate Rangel and another veteran who filed complaints. The city must also establish a $150,000 settlement fund to compensate other service members whose SCRA rights may have been violated and pay a $62,029 civil penalty to the U.S. Treasury.
The agreement, which is subject to court approval, resolves a suit filed Thursday by the Department of Justice in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.
“Service members who serve our country honorably should not have to come home to find that that their only means of transportation and its contents have been auctioned off to the highest bidder,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband, with the Civil Rights Division. “We are pleased that the city has worked cooperatively with the department to reach a settlement that will compensate all the service members who lost their vehicles and will provide additional protections for the thousands of service members stationed in and around San Antonio.”
Service members and their dependents who believe that their rights under SCRA have been violated should contact the nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance Program Office. Office locations may be found at legalassistance.law.af.mil/.