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Dude, Where's My Car?: Yes, the Cops Can Dismantle Your Vehicle and Hold It Indefinitely 

Wednesday, Jan 28 2015
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At around 2 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 18, Nery Garcia was awakened by a barrage of gunfire outside her sister's home on 25th and Connecticut. And she was ready to go back to bed because, sadly, barrages of gunfire are the type of thing that happens on 25th and Connecticut at 2 a.m.

Then the neighbors knocked on her door: "They're taking your car."

The police, in fact, were in the midst of towing away Garcia's 2006 Nissan Sentra as evidence when she ran onto the street. They'd already rolled off with a few other cars that got it worse than Garcia's, which was perforated by a single shot through the driver's side door. She convinced officers to allow her to rescue some groceries from the trunk.

And that's a good thing, because they'd have rotted by now.

Not having a car impedes Garcia's ability to ferry around her 21(!) nieces and nephews. After repeatedly dialing the police number handed to her, Garcia, an administrator at this newspaper, finally reached a human being after four days. That officer gave her another number to call; dialing it reached a perpetual busy signal (it turned out to be a non-working number).

Like gunfire erupting at 25th and Connecticut, cops hauling off evidence is just one of those things. SFPD spokeswoman Officer Grace Gatpandan says the department can hold onto cars indefinitely. And if they need to partially or totally dismantle the vehicle in search of whatever they're looking for, they will not put it back together for you (you'd need to fill out a form "and the city will cut you a check").

If a crime were committed with or within the car, "indefinitely" would figure to be weeks or months, per San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. In the case of a bullet merely traveling through a vehicle, Adachi says three to five days is par for the course. And that was the case with Garcia: After she wrote the SFPD emails (also addressed to a newspaper reporter), they reacted with unimpeachable rapidity. Her car was ready for retrieval on Friday, Jan. 23.

Incidentally, if you've got something in your car less innocuous than groceries — you're out of luck. Even if, as in Garcia's case, the impacted portion of the vehicle is limited, the police will conduct a thorough "inventory search." There's a sound rationale: Cops' weeklong delay in retrieving Leonard Milo Hoskins' decomposing body from a van in 2008 gave his killers the time they needed to abscond to Mexico.

"If you've got some pot, they're not going to care," says Adachi. "A little bit of coke, they're not going to care. Briefcase full of Ecstasy — they'll probably care."

Garcia says there's nothing bad in the car. But if there were, the public defender advises her "the best thing to say is 'I don't know how that got in there.'"

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Bio:
Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

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