The Case Of The Private Duty State Trooper

One day, Rich thought he could use an oil change. He drove his car to Pete, the local mechanic. When Rich arrived, Pete suggested they clean the battery terminal and flush the radiator as well. Rich said okay, and went inside to wait for the work to be done.

A bit later, Rich noticed a couple mechanics manually pushing his car out of the garage. Rich watched curiously, as they attached jumper cables to the battery and jump-started the car. That seemed odd since the car was running perfectly just a few minutes before.

When Rich got the bill, it had an extra $15 charge included for battery terminal service. He complained to Pete, insisting that there was nothing wrong with the battery before. After some back and forth, Rich wrote him a check and drove to Pep Boys. There, he was told that the battery terminal was suddenly damaged. The replacement put Rich out another $87.

Rich went straight back to Pete and blamed him for the damage. After a whole lot of arguing, Rich put a stop payment on his check. He sent a new check, minus the $87 for the new battery. Pete mailed the check back, ominously cut in half. But Pete had more tricks up his sleeve. Whenever he had trouble with customers, he’d call his buddy Nick, who happened to be a state trooper.

When Nick heard about the bad check, he went directly to the perpetrator’s house and threatened to charge him unless he paid the debt. Rich flatly refused. A week later, with no arrest warrant, the trooper returned and arrested him. He brought Rich down to the station and handcuffed him to a bench. Allegedly, a Sergeant said to him, “you’re not such a tough bastard now, are you?” Rich’s wife showed up and forked over the measly sum owed Pete.

Rich promptly sued the State Police, claiming false imprisonment and violation of his civil rights. The trial court dismissed the suit, reasoning that since Rich did technically write a bad check, he had broken the law, and therefore Nick had probable cause to arrest him.

But on appeal, the State Police weren’t so lucky. The court said that the officer may not have had probable cause to make the arrest since the dispute was likely to be resolved in small claims court. On top of that, the judges pointed to evidence that Pete had regularly called in favors with the State Police for collecting debts. Such an “enforcement” arrangement sounds a bit like corruption. Or maybe the Mafia.

And who will have to eventually foot the bill for any compensation that Rich is awarded from the State Police? Nick the enforcer? Not likely. You and me, the taxpayers. Now you’re talking.