Court Moves Business Owner One Step Closer To Getting Paid Back For Vehicle DEA Destroyed In A Failed Drug Sting

from the Motion-To-Unfuck-The-Situation-granted dept

Almost seven years ago, DEA agents borrowed a truck (and an employee) from Craig Thomas Expeditors. Craig Patty, proprietor and employer of Lawrence Chapa, had no idea this was happening. The DEA never approached Patty and, for all he knew, Chapa was taking the truck down to Houston for some service. This was all a ruse. The DEA loaded Patty’s truck with marijuana (and his driver) and went down to Houston to engage in a drug sting.

This wasn’t the first sting the DEA had deployed using Patty’s truck and his driver. But it was the last. Instead of a controlled purchase followed by several arrests, the DEA ran into an ambush instead. Patty’s truck was riddled with bullets, as was Patty’s driver. In the middle of it all, a plainclothes cop from one Texas agency was shot by a plainclothes cop employed by another.

After this debacle, Patty was finally informed that his truck and employee had been part of a tragic DEA misfire. He was also informed that the federal government would not be shelling out a single cent to repair the $100,000 worth of damage to the truck. (It said even less about the cost of the life it had taken from Patty’s driver.) The DEA said it did not have to pay anything for the damage because it occurred during a law enforcement operation. Patty’s insurance company said the same thing.

Patty sued the DEA. This went nowhere. The government argued — successfully — that clandestine operations like drug stings don’t require notification of citizens whose private property is put to use. It also argued it was immune from liability because undercover operations are more important than protecting assets owned by law-abiding citizens. The court agreed and tossed Patty’s case.

This appeared to be the end of it. But I’m happy to report that’s not the case. Nearly seven years has elapsed since the DEA destroyed Patty’s truck, but a federal judge for the Federal Claims court has said Patty can move ahead with his lawsuit seeking compensation for his “borrowed” truck. (via

The denial of the government’s motion to dismiss [PDF] is pretty weedy, but basically comes down to competing interpretations of Patty’s allegations. The government argued Patty’s complaint alleged illegal actions by the DEA, which would mean this court lacked jurisdiction over the case. The judge points out Patty’s complaint doesn’t actually do that. What Patty is alleging is something different: a violation of the Takings Clause. The government took property of Patty’s without permission and failed to compensate him for the damage done to it.

Defendant relies in part on the fact that plaintiffs assert that the agency’s use of their truck was without permission and an unjustified risk to private property and to the lives of those involved in the LLC. Pls.’ Compl. ¶ ¶ 2, 17, 18, 21. But an assertion of lack of consent to the use is not the same as an assertion of illegality. More importantly, it is not inconsistent with the assertion of a taking. Condemnation actions, whether direct or implied, typically are done over the property owner’s objection.

This changes the legal contours, much to the presumed dismay of the government. It’s no longer about apparent theft, but rather the government running roughshod over a citizen’s property rights. The government tried to argue it wasn’t a taking per se, but rather a form of forfeiture. It didn’t say as much in its arguments, but all of its supporting citations dealt with forfeitures in criminal cases or seized evidence. As the court points out, the supporting case law cited by the government does not address the issue at hand.

In each of these cases, the property was evidence in an investigation or the object of the law enforcement action. In none of them did the government simply seize property as a convenience to the government in pursuing unrelated law enforcement.

It then goes on to point out exactly why it won’t let the government get away with its false equation.

If defendant’s position is the law, the police power would swallow private property whole. Neither plaintiffs nor their truck were the subject of an investigation, their truck did not belong to a person who was the subject of an investigation, nor was it related, before the fact, to any violation of regulation or statute. Plaintiffs emphasize that neither the LCC nor Mr. Patty had any connection to or dealings with criminal outfits in the state of Texas and that, had it not been for their driver working with the DEA, their truck would have never been involved in the operation. The government instead chose to use plaintiffs’ property as a tool to stage a controlled drug delivery.

Then it goes further, calling out the government for its refusal to admit it screwed a law-abiding citizen out of $100,000+ worth of property — something the government has done repeatedly in the past and been held accountable for.

Plaintiffs’ claim bears striking similarities to cases in which the government has chosen simply to appropriate private property to secure a benefit for the public. Here, the assertion is that law enforcement officials used private property as a resource for an operation despite lack of consent of the property owner. Using the dichotomy of whether the government action prevented harm to the public or secured a benefit to the public, the government’s action falls within the latter category: it did not seize the truck to prevent a harm to the public caused by or related to the truck or anyone associated with it, but rather the agency chose to use the truck as a resource in ridding the area of controlled substances and criminal activity. It could just as easily have rented a truck and furnished it to Mr. Chapa. Plaintiffs’ truck was not evidence in a criminal prosecution, involved in a police investigation, seized pursuant to criminal laws, or subject to forfeiture proceedings. If what the DEA is alleged to have done here were not compensable, then presumably it could have seized a fleet of trucks or an airplane for the same use.

This moves Patty one step closer for being repaid for the DEA’s use of his vehicle. Sure, it’s not the DEA’s fault its drug sting fell apart and resulted in vehicle damage and the loss of life. But as the court points out, the DEA could have pursued a sting operation without using a private citizen’s vehicle. It had plenty of options that wouldn’t have put it in the position it’s in today. But it chose to do it the easy way, which is now — seven years after the fact — turning into the hard way. The DEA worked harder, not smarter. Hopefully, this business owner won’t remain screwed for much longer.

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Companies: craig thomas expeditors

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Comments on “Court Moves Business Owner One Step Closer To Getting Paid Back For Vehicle DEA Destroyed In A Failed Drug Sting”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Every day Techdirt shows me things about Liberals of the

Ivy League that make me hoot, and ever more resolutely oppose their wrongness.

This one is only too typical: DRUG DEALERS COMMIT CRIMES WITH SHOTS FIRED, and Techdirt want taxpayers to pay for the damage. Try blaming the criminals.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Every day Techdirt shows me things about Liberals of the

That’s the thing: in this case, the taxpayers pay for the damage either way.

The only question is whether the burden is to be spread out among the entire population whose taxes fund the agency in question, or borne entirely by the single taxpayer whose property the DEA chose to commandeer for the purpose.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

If we want your stuff, we can take it.
If we destroy it, fsck off.

It’s not our fault your property got destroyed in our failed operation that exposed regular citizens to death.

This reminds me of the Chief who used the bearcat to rip down a families home & refused to repair it.

If we do something wrong we have to pay the price, why are we letting them play by different rules… if I rolled up and shot a black kid in 10 seconds I doubt I’d be found innocent & arbitrated back on the job in under 3 months….

Anonymous Coward says:

Techdirt demands US Gov't pay for crimes by drug dealers!

Talk about third-party liability!

There’s not any "taking", as gov’t had no intention of damage, nor once shooting starts, can there be any blame except on the criminals.

But EVERY time gov’t goes after drug dealing, Techdirt regards gov’t as automatically in the wrong.

This person should sue insurance company, not gov’t; the insuror was paid for taking risk, and though the claim is large, the risk of it happening was proportionally low.

And again, I think this is probably raid on taxpayers, as $100K of damage is likely more than the truck is worth. I need detailed images and three estimates.

Toestubber (profile) says:

Re: Techdirt demands US Gov't pay for crimes by drug dealers!

“This person should sue insurance company, not gov’t; the insuror was paid for taking risk, and though the claim is large, the risk of it happening was proportionally low.”

Another ridiculous argument. The truck was presumably not insured against joyriding or drug war games. The government agents obtained a private vehicle under false pretenses.

mik says:

So somewhere behind these cases there are real people acting as lawyers and gov agents. What has happened in these people lives that they are so devoid of any ethic or morals that they can turn up to work and behave this way. I mean any decent human would see that getting people killed and others property destroyed is a complete dick move and would at least see to it that restitution is made. But no, these people acting for the government turn up for work and activily argue against doing the right thing.
Doing your job well is one thing, but how does a person live with themselves if their job is this

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The problem here is that

all too often the lawyers involved are not considering the court case to be a search for justice, but instead a competition in some sort of zero sum game where the only thing important is the win/loss ratio. Never mind if the outcome services justice, the only thing that’s important is whether or not I’ve won.

Not an Electronic Rodent (profile) says:

But wait... what?

I’d heard there was this crazy thing called "The Constitution" over there in the US and that it said something about citizens "effects" being secured from "unreasonable searches and seizures".

I’m pretty sure a truck would qualify as an "effect" and equally sure that "because we wanted it" is close to the textbook definition of "unreasonable". So can some clever lawyer explain how this sort of thing isn’t exactly what they were thinking about when they wrote that?

Anonymous Coward says:

Article [V] (Amendment 5 – Rights of Persons)
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Oh come on now, we have all seen at least one of those hollywood movies where a cop runs up and carjacks some poor unsuspecting citizen while briefly flashing a badge.

Hahaha, in real life cops do not do that and anyone actually attempting this would get run over because most people would assume it was a fake cop and try to get away.

Likewise, how did this now deceased individual know he was dealing with a real officer in the DEA, a badge? I wonder if he called to verify, was the officer rogue? Why would anyone think this is ok?

ECA (profile) says:


Craig Thomas Expeditors, LLC filed as a Domestic Limited Liability Company (LLC) in the State of Texas on Tuesday, May 10, 2011 and is approximately seven years old, according to public records filed with Texas Secretary of State.

“Patty and his father, Thomas, started the company in July of 2011 and purchased a second truck in September. They hired Chapa to drive the 2006 Kenworth T600. When Patty performed a background check on Chapa, the Department of Transportation did not report any criminal charges despite multiple arrests and one of possession of cocaine. The suit claims that the DEA set Chapa up with a clean record and planned his employment with Craig Thomas Expediting.

Lawrence Chapa was allegedly a DEA informant and working to complete a drug deal with the Mexican Zeta drug cartel, which was suspected to be moving narcotics from Mexico into Texas. “

I HAVE A PROBLEM with a Gov. agency, Stealing from a Local dealer, that recently setup business..

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