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Woman regains car, but still plans to sue

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Arlene Harjo is getting her car back – but she says she won’t stop moving forward with her lawsuit until the city ends the program that allowed them to take possession of her car nine months ago.

City attorneys said in court filings that they plan to file several different motions to dismiss the case before it gets to trial.

Harjo has filed litigation against the city of Albuquerque seeking to end a city program that allows police to seize vehicles from suspects arrested on suspicion of a second or subsequent felony.

Harjo’s 2014 Nissan Versa was seized when her son was arrested for drunken driving in April. She said she gave her son permission to drive to the gym, but instead he drove to Clovis and was arrested while driving back to the city. Her son had prior drunken driving convictions, the most recent coming in 2009, according to court documents.

The city agreed to release the vehicle to Harjo. The city in court filings said that it reviewed documents from Harjo’s seizure and found the city shouldn’t have taken control of the vehicle because it was seized outside the city limits.

“Upon confirming this information, the city promptly informed Ms. Harjo’s attorneys that we intend to release the vehicle to her,” City Attorney Jessica Hernandez said.

Harjo said she has been paying several car bills for the past eight months when the city had her car.

“It took them (nine) months to dawn on them that they shouldn’t have taken the car?” Harjo said. “The focus now is to prevent this from happening to anyone else.”

Robert Frommer, one of Harjo’s attorneys from the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm in Washington, D.C., said Harjo still has good reason to continue her lawsuit to try to end the program.

“She was still harmed,” he said. “She had to be subject to this unlawful scheme.”

Albuquerque police for several years have confiscated vehicles from certain drivers using a city ordinance.

But some have argued that state forfeiture laws should prohibit Albuquerque police, and a handful of other law enforcement agencies in the state, from taking vehicles from drivers who are suspected but not convicted of a crime.

Hernandez has said the city’s seizure program operates under a nuisance-abatement ordinance. She said it’s a useful tool to fight against drunken drivers and that “innocent owners” have steps they can take under the ordinance to get their vehicles.

Harjo said she is committed to moving forward with her case in hopes that it leads to a judge abolishing the city’s seizure program.

“I was angry,” she said of the procedure the city used to confiscate her car. “I felt (the hearing officer) was trying to intimidate me and make me feel like I did something wrong.”

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