Alabama Judge Orders Return of Seized Car: In Bay Minette, Alabama, a judge has slammed the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office for what he deemed an “improper and illegal” seizure of a Rabun man’s car. The catch? The vehicle is now in the possession of a Kansas man who reported it stolen two decades ago.
Presiding Baldwin County Circuit Judge Clark Stankoski didn’t budge from his previous decision against the Sheriff’s Office and denied their plea for reconsideration. In his latest ruling, issued Tuesday, he ordered the Sheriff’s Office and the state of Alabama to return the vehicle to Thomas Hadley within 43 days. Baldwin County District Attorney Robert Wilters hinted at a likely appeal but refrained from providing further comments.
The focal point of the controversy is a 1968 Camaro bought by Hadley in 2016. The Alabama Department of Revenue, based on the Vehicle Identification Number, claimed it was stolen. In September, Baldwin County sheriff’s deputies insisted on Hadley surrendering the car. When he resisted, they returned with a warrant to seize it.
Shockingly, deputies handed the vehicle to the Kansas man just 20 minutes before Stankoski issued a temporary restraining order preventing further action. The judge rebuked the Sheriff’s Office, stating it was “illegal to use the criminal process to help facilitate a civil remedy.”
Stankoski highlighted the absence of evidence supporting a legitimate criminal investigation by the state. “Each and every Baldwin County Sheriff Deputy testified that they were not investigating a crime,” he wrote. “They never considered Mr. Hadley under criminal investigation, and they had no intention of making an arrest in this case… Procuring a search warrant to sidestep a Circuit Court Judge was thus improper and illegal.”
Hadley asserts that he legally acquired the Camaro from a Baldwin County man who owned it for several years. His attorney emphasized that the VIN matching the stolen car came from a replaced part on the firewall years before Hadley’s purchase.
Stankoski clarified he wasn’t making a specific judgment on the ownership dispute due to insufficient evidence. He noted the Kansas man didn’t testify about the original VIN on his stolen car or confirm alterations. He urged a proper venue, at the right time, with sworn testimony from those claiming ownership to decide this issue.