Man Sues Hertz For Not Turning Over A Receipt That Would Have Cleared Him Of Murder Charges Until After He Spent Five Years In Jail

from the customer-service-0/5-stars dept

Law enforcement loves loves LOVES third parties. Anyone one step removed from someone they’re investigating generally isn’t covered by the Fourth Amendment, which means no one needs a warrant or probable cause to go fishing for “third party” data.

But when it comes to the accused, what’s easy for law enforcement is seldom simple for regular citizens. Third parties obtain tons of personal data when interacting with customers and users. But when a regular person asks for this information, third parties apparently feel free to blow them off. That’s the case when someone’s trying to do nothing more than dispute something on their credit record. And it’s also the case when someone’s life is literally on the line.

This cavalier approach to record keeping might finally cost a third party some money. A man falsely accused of murder is taking car rental agency Hertz to court for sitting on a receipt that would have cleared him for several years.

A Michigan man was convicted of second-degree murder in 2016, but he didn’t do it. Now, he’s suing the car rental agency that held onto the receipt proving his innocence.

Herbert Alford spent almost five years behind bars for the 2011 shooting death of Michael Adams before his conviction was overturned last year and he was released.

Hertz had the records that would have cleared Alford. But it didn’t hand them over until after he had already served five years for a crime he didn’t commit.

The rental records would have shown that Alford was miles away from the murder scene six minutes before the crime was committed. But Hertz took its time producing the exonerative evidence.

Alford’s lawyers repeatedly insisted that he was nowhere near the area at the time of Adams’ murder and instead was at Capital Region International Airport in Lansing, approximately 20 minutes away, renting a car from the Hertz station six minutes before the fatal shooting.

“If anybody has ever traveled Lansing from Pleasant Grove to the airport you know that is not possible to accomplish,” Alford’s lawyer, Jamie White, told WLNS. “You couldn’t even do it in a helicopter.”

Hertz got the records request in 2015. It took the company three years to produce it. Once it did, Alford was cleared of all charges. This is all Hertz has to say about its inability to keep Alford out of jail.

“While we were unable to find the historic rental record from 2011 when it was requested in 2015, we continued our good faith efforts to locate it,” spokeswoman Lauren Luster told the Associated Press. “With advances in data search in the years following, we were able to locate the rental record in 2018 and promptly provided it.

Whatever. If it had meant as much to Hertz as it meant to Alford, the records would have been found much earlier. The problem is it didn’t mean much to Hertz. So, it took its time locating records requested by a man facing decades in prison, resulting in him losing a half-decade of his life to the penal system. For Hertz, it’s nothing but a very minor PR black eye — one unlikely to deter renters who have yet to be falsely accused of committing crimes.

But for Hertz renters, records like these matter, even if they have yet to discover how much they matter. A subpoena for records shouldn’t be thrown on the back burner, whether it’s issued by a law enforcement agency or someone they’re trying to prosecute.

But there’s more ugliness to this case if Alford’s allegations are true. It’s more than a missing receipt. It’s the deliberate inducement of false testimony by investigators.

Police said that a police informant, Jessie Bridges, reported that he saw the shooting and identified the gunman as 38-year-old Herbert Alford. Bridges would later recant his statement and claimed that police had offered him $1,500 to falsely implicate Alford.

So, that’s another lawsuit waiting to happen. Maybe this didn’t actually happen, but it’s not so far removed from reality it’s immediately dismissible. Let’s not forget law enforcement thinks criminals who work for them are inherently trustworthy and everyone accused of a crime is inherently dishonest. But sometimes it takes a bit more — shall we call it “legwork” — to get informants to agree with the established narrative. And when some coaxing is required to seal a prosecutorial deal, the “good” criminals tend to be enriched. That’s what happens when the criminal justice system is more concerned with scoring wins than upholding justice.

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Comments on “Man Sues Hertz For Not Turning Over A Receipt That Would Have Cleared Him Of Murder Charges Until After He Spent Five Years In Jail”

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32 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

I’m probably naive, but shouldn’t a few things have happened in that case?

such as:

  • Informing the jury the witness was paid for testimony
  • Prosecution also subpoenaing Hertz for that receipt (I understand this goes against the goal for a conviction, but I’d rather see justice done than railroading)
  • The judge issuing an order compelling Hertz to produce the receipt (with a threat of contempt if not done so in a timely manner)
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: I'm probably naive

  • If the prosecution really paid for testimony, somebody should be going to jail for that alone, whether they told the jury about it or not (of course, yes they should)
  • Many companies (esp. larger ones) have "data retention policies" that make them erase/destroy all data older than X years – mostly so if they get sued (a) discovery will be less costly and (b) the data can’t be used to prove they did something wrong. I’m kind of amazed Hertz still had 7 year old records at all.

But this case will be fun to watch. I hope everyone gets what they deserve.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Re: I'm probably naive

If the prosecution really paid for testimony, somebody should be going to jail for that alone, whether they told the jury about it or not (of course, yes they should)

This points to the original defense attorney/team being lazy, and therefore not presenting a proper defense. IOW, the first question out of his/her/their mouth should’ve been: "And how much were you paid for this testimony today?".

I’m kind of amazed Hertz still had 7 year old records at all.

Remember, the IRS can come after you for suspected cheating/fraud, and can look at the previous 2 years of returns, beside the current one (that’s under investigation). But, and this is the biggie, if they think they’ve found evidence of wrongdoing in that period of time, then they can go back an additional 4 year beyond, for a total of 7 years. Moral of the story: Keep Everything. It’s not a matter of IF, only a matter of WHEN they pull your name out of the hat for "random sampling" to ensure that the people are playing by their rules.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: I'm probably naive

I hope everyone gets what they deserve.

IF the allegations are true then,

They deserve to be taken out back and shot dead like the dogs they are. It won’t happen of course, but that’s what should happen to those who are charged with upholding the law and willingly choose to abdicate that responsibility. That the allegations imply that this choice was made for nothing more than career points makes the alleged crime even more heinous and unacceptable.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Rekrul says:

Re: Re:

Prosecution also subpoenaing Hertz for that receipt (I understand this goes against the goal for a conviction, but I’d rather see justice done than railroading)

You have to understand that getting a "win", even if it’s by convicting the wrong person is MUCH more important for the prosecution than verifying that they’re going after the right person.

In the cop shows on TV, both the cops and prosecutors examine all the evidence and leave no stone unturned to discover who is actually guilty. In the real world, cops and prosecutors pick the person they think is the most likely suspect and at that point, they stop looking for any evidence that might lead to someone else and instead spend all their time and effort working to build a case against that person. Anything that might clear that person or lead anywhere else is deemed irrelevant and will be ignored.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You have to understand that getting a "win", even if it’s by convicting the wrong person is MUCH more important for the prosecution than verifying that they’re going after the right person.

Then we don’t have a justice system. We have a Russian roulette system where someone commits a crime and who gets punished for it is selected at random. May as well just have a computer take the name of every person in the US and start choosing people to report to jail for a random "solved" crime. (Or the suicide booths for those that live in states with the death penalty.)

You’d have just as many lawsuits and wrongful convictions doing that, but at least those assholes who can’t do their jobs properly would be out of them.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Rekrul says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Then we don’t have a justice system. We have a Russian roulette system where someone commits a crime and who gets punished for it is selected at random.

It’s not completely random. Suspects are usually selected on the basis of whoever the cops don’t like in any particular case.

Several years ago, I read about a case where a young girl disappeared. The cops took a dislike to one member of her family, an uncle I think, and spent months trying to build a case against him even though there was no evidence and the parents didn’t think he did it either. Eventually, it was discovered that the girl had been abducted by someone who did work for the family.

There have been other documented cases where prosecutors have actually hid evidence that would have proven that the person they were going after was innocent.

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This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
keithzg (profile) says:

Re: That's some disinformation timmy

Eh, that’s explicitly cited in the article here. Hertz’ statement as such is quoted, then Tim chalks that up to them not trying very hard. Hard to argue with that as it’s undeniably true if Hertz is even telling the truth (if they eventually found it, clearly it’s there somewhere, so someone manually pouring over things could have found it faster than, yaknow, years later).

Knowing law enforcement, I almost wonder if that’s not even the truth though, and if they were instead quietly asked to not find the receipt, and then staffing changed and that directive got lost in the shuffle. Of course we’re deep into Hanlon’s Razor territory then.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: That's some disinformation timmy

"if they were instead quietly asked to not find the receipt, and then staffing changed and that directive got lost in the shuffle"

They’re apparently known to have bribed a witness to lie, then after a few years Hertz just happened to have found the required data after unspecified "advances in data search".

I’d say that interpretation is spot on.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: That's some disinformation timmy

Knowing law enforcement, I almost wonder if that’s not even the truth though, and if they were instead quietly asked to not find the receipt, and then staffing changed and that directive got lost in the shuffle. Of course we’re deep into Hanlon’s Razor territory then.

It’s either that or knowing that they could clear one of their customers of a murder charge wasn’t enough to motivate them to treat the search seriously, which… isn’t exactly much/any better.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

"With advances in data search in the years following, we were able to locate the rental record in 2018 and promptly provided it."

What advances? You’re saying that you couldn’t make a basic SQL query in your own database before 2018? I think what they mean is "we screwed up our archive queries and someone fixed that in 2018". I wonder what else they missed.

"Bridges would later recant his statement and claimed that police had offered him $1,500 to falsely implicate Alford."

Well, that should surely result in massive investigations into the police about not only this case and prosecuting those who were bribing witnesses, but a complete audit into every case that department has been involved with for decades since it’s now tainted.

FFS, who am I kidding?

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set ENABLE_FACE_MASK_CLASSIFIER parameter to true says:

"Law enforcement loves loves LOVES" GOOGLE'S SPYING.

FTFY. Techdirt NEVER names Facebook / Google / Twitter unless unavoidable. This piece is typical, only refers to generic "third parties":

Third parties obtain tons of personal data when interacting with customers and users.

Techdirt doesn’t want ANY corporations, especially not Facebook / Google to be "burdened" with any notion of duty to The Public. — Again typically: Techdirt NEVER rails at the surveillance and storing by the biggest FIRST-PARTIES, just tries to create that false impression with pieces like this.

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set ENABLE_FACE_MASK_CLASSIFIER parameter to true says:

Re: "Law enforcement loves loves LOVES" GOOGLE'S SPYIN

But when a regular person asks for this information, third parties apparently feel free to blow them off.

Techdirt asserts that corporations are Persons with Rights, but since doesn’t serve purpose here, that’s forgotten. The true state of law is that not only are "third parties" of any kind required to provide information when subpoenaed, and corporations are mere permitted entities subject to even more laws.

It’s revealing that Techdirt doesn’t attempt to explain how key evidence was NOT gotten, or trial delayed. — Techdirt isn’t curious about, doesn’t actually care for details, because…

The overall purpose here is for Techdirt to appear against all corporations and for individual Rights. BUT in fact it always favors certain corporations (the ones it does NOT mention) and this piece boils down to another in its ongoing attack on police. — Whether it’s justified is irrelevant! Techdirt hates police — and promotes various criminality — period. This premise helps its anarchist views, only reason run. — If think that too cynical, hundreds of regulars have left forever probably precisely because murky motive cause continuous unease. — Yup. Next piece, Maz defends Google, I don’t even need to read more than title.

Techdirt has no positive agenda that it can state openly, and all of its notions about teh internets bringing free content and Free Speech are proven wrong, so can only try to build cred with negatives.

sumgai (profile) says:

Re: "Law enforcement loves loves LOVES" GOOGLE'S SPYING.

It’s nice to see that you’ve learned how to turn on AutoCorrect, because your spelling is quite on target. Too bad your content, however, is so far off base as to give me pause for consideration – do I really want to ask you for the name of your drug dealer, because he’s definitely doing right by you…..

Wyrm (profile) says:

It’s already known (or at least it should be) that cops are legally allowed to lie during interrogation. They can tell you they have evidence they actually don’t have. They can tell you about witnesses that don’t exist.
I find that wrong, morally speaking, but it goes beyond just the morality of it. There have been numerous cases of innocent pushed to confessing crimes they didn’t commit because those lies made them distrust their own memories. So it’s wrong because it’s a failing tool to find the culprit of a crime. Unless you see as a game where the goal is to convict someone. Anyone.

Now, we have a worse case here. (And it’s not unique.)
This is falsified evidence brought to the trial itself.
This definitely is illegal and the police – possibly along with the prosecutors, if they knew about it – should be sued back.
There is some degree of immunity against lawyers, judges and prosecutors, but this should only stand when not committing perjury or evidence tampering. Also, I don’t think that covers the cops brought as witnesses. And certainly not the paid and lying witnesses themselves.

The third-party involvement here shouldn’t even have been a problem because, except for that bribed witness, they didn’t even have a case. Not that it excuses Hertz, but they are not the main ones to blame.

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