Skip to comments.Dealership apologizes for error, customer arrest
Posted on 10/08/2012 5:14:50 AM PDT by billorites
The president of Priority Chevrolet apologized Wednesday for the arrest of a customer in June whom the dealership mistakenly undercharged for an SUV and who resisted the company's efforts to get him to sign a new, costlier contract.
Dennis Ellmer said he's heard from Chesapeake police that one of his managers told an officer that Danny Sawyer of Chesapeake had stolen a 2012 Chevrolet Traverse.
"I owe Mr. Sawyer a big apology," said Ellmer, who manages the entire Priority Auto Group - which includes 11 dealerships in Virginia and North Carolina.
He said his staff erred when they sold the SUV to Sawyer for about $5,600 too little and erred again when they went to police. He said Sawyer should not have been arrested and definitely should not have spent four hours in jail.
"It is my plan to let him keep the $5,600 and to make Mr. Sawyer right. I can't tell you how I plan to fix it, but it is my intention to make it right," said Ellmer, adding that he would like to sit down and talk with Sawyer.
Rebecca Colaw, Sawyer's attorney, said she appreciates that Ellmer is taking responsibility for what happened. But she said he will have to do more than say he's sorry and let Sawyer keep the SUV.
"An apology is not enough," she said.
Earlier this month, Sawyer, 40, a registered nurse, filed two lawsuits against the dealership accusing it of malicious prosecution, slander, defamation and abuse of process, among other things. The lawsuits seek $2.2 million in damages, plus attorney fees.
Ellmer and his vice president, Stacy Cummings, said they were unaware of the lawsuits until they read about them Tuesday on the front page of The Virginian-Pilot. Two managers at Priority Chevrolet declined Monday to comment on the lawsuits, and two phone calls and an email to an attorney for the dealership were not returned.
According to the lawsuits, Sawyer test-drove a blue Chevrolet Traverse on May 7 but ultimately decided to buy a black one. He traded in his 2008 Saturn Vue, signed a promissory note and left in his new SUV.
The next morning, Sawyer returned and asked to exchange the black Traverse for the blue one.
The lawsuit claims Wib Davenport, a sales manager, agreed to the trade without discussing how much more the blue Traverse would cost. Cummings disputed that, saying Davenport told Sawyer it would cost about $5,500 more than the black one and that Sawyer orally agreed to the higher price.
Regardless, the final contract Sawyer signed did not reflect the higher price, which Cummings said should have been in the area of $39,000. He blamed a clerical error.
"We definitely made a mistake there. There is no doubt about it," said Ellmer.
After signing the contract - which listed a sale price of about $34,000 - Sawyer immediately left the dealership and returned with a cashier's check covering what he owed after dealer incentives and his trade-in.
A week later, Sawyer came back from a vacation to find numerous voicemails and a letter from the dealership, the suit said. In a phone conversation, Davenport explained they had made a mistake on the contract and sold the car for too little. He asked Sawyer to return to the dealership and sign a new contract.
The lawsuit claims Sawyer refused. Cummings said Sawyer initially agreed but never followed through.
When Sawyer did not return to the dealership, Priority staff continued their attempts to contact him via phone, text message and hand-delivered letters. They eventually contacted police.
On June 15, three Chesapeake police officers arrested Sawyer in his front yard and took him before a magistrate judge. He was released on bond after about four hours at the Chesapeake jail, the suit said.
Commonwealth's Attorney Nancy Parr said her office dropped all charges Aug. 23 after speaking with representatives of the dealership and determining there was insufficient evidence to pursue the case.
In an interview Tuesday, Ellmer and Cummings said their staff never reported the SUV stolen and never asked for Sawyer to be arrested. They said they called police only for help locating the SUV while they pursued the civil action.
After speaking with police Wednesday, however, Ellmer said he'd learned one of his managers, Brad Anderson, had indeed said the SUV was stolen.
Kelly O'Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the Chesapeake Police Department, said the officer told Anderson in advance he was going to secure a warrant for Sawyer's arrest.
Ellmer described what happened to Sawyer as an isolated incident. He noted that his dealerships sell about 13,000 cars a year.
"This shouldn't have happened," he said.
Then someone screwed the pooch earlier. They shouldn't have sworn out the warrant without sufficient proof from the dealership that a crime was committed.
I don't know exactly what the employee told them, but if he came in with a claim that the someone paid $5,600 less than they were supposed to, then the police should have investigated the circumstances more thoroughly. They should have seen the signed contract, and told the employee to go home.
Of course, if the employee simply said that the vehicle was stolen, then that was an out-and-out lie. He would have to fabricate a complete story that didn't hint there was any misunderstanding -- or the police should have have investigated further.
My point is there was plenty of opportunity for the police to figure out this was simply a dispute over the selling price, if the employee even hinted that it was something besides a guy that took a car for a test drive and didn't return it. Once any paperwork was signed, it became a civil dispute, not a criminal one.
True. And now their job is to issue an arrest warrant against the dealership employee for the false report.
At a minimum, he should get to keep the SUV that he bought, free and clear, and get a free Corvette ZR1 to park right next to it.
Having a customer arrested seems extreme, too. If Ellmer has any sense, he’ll settle for whatever he can get away with. Swearing out a false criminal complaint is a *HUGE* deal, imho. Whoever reported the “theft” to the coppers needs to do some time. They figure they are big respected auto dealer and this guy is just some little guy they can steamroller. Screw, them, I think $2.3 million would teach them a lesson.
Here’s a photo of Ellmer, as well as all 11 dealerships that he owns.
Unfortunately Ellmer is a Republican with donations to Scott Rigell.
I understand it is very hard to get a felony arrest off your record. If you are asked have you been arrested for a felony you have to answer yes.
Translation: "My lawyer said I better do something quick or I am going to get reamed like an 18 year old pretty boy on his first night in a federal penitentiary."
The official at he dealership obviously made a false statement to the police, which caused them to issue the arrest warrant. Isn’t that a criminal offense?
It’s a Chevy dealer. The owner will just send the bill to the government.
“Screw, them, I think $2.3 million would teach them a lesson.”
My feelings too. Business operates on a relationship of trust between the client and the provider. Filing a false report to cover up your own mistake needs to be punished.
No, $2.2 million is not extreme.
The plaintiff now has a felony arrest on his record for grand theft auto. He's a registered nurse. With that on his record, he will automatically be excluded from employment by many potential employers.
The plaintiff may be able to have the arrest record expunged. But, the NCIC system is a nightmare, and once something is in it, completely getting it out is like playing whack-a-mole.
There are inadvertent mistakes, and there is willful negligence. This was willful negligence. I don't like the lawsuit lottery any more than you do, but this is the kind of case where I have no problem with a huge award that will make headlines.
And I'm not worried about putting anyone at the dealership out of a job, other than the people that actually contributed to this negligence (and I think those should be facing criminal charges, personally). As L in M suggested: the plaintiff just became the majority owner of Priority Auto Group.
The warrant has to be issued from the court, not the police. It then goes to the warrants section where those officers or designates serve the warrant and make the arrest as so stipulated by the warrant.
Whatever work you do or have done, I’m sure you would be offended if you were lumped into the actions of a few who made poor decisions so please cut the garbage of throwing all officers into the same small basket of bad apples. I would have expected at least the same for you in your profession.
This is a case where a business on false pretenses had a customer arrested and charged with theft. We’re not talking about a doctor who practised good medicine but got unjustly sued when his best efforts didn’t prevent the death of a patient.
A man’s civil rights were violated in order to intimidate him into changing a contract. This business needs to learn never to do this type of thing again and other businesses need to take note. As for the amount of the award, it will be up to the judge and jury whether or not the plaintif gets the full amount asked for. The business owner is willing to talk and ‘try to make it good”, so I think the courts will take that into consideration if the aggrieved party wants to be firm on his detirmination to sue!
Must be one of Obama’s selected dealers
The only crime committed is buying a Chevy Traverse for $34,000. Rented one this weekend and it was bland, unexciting, noisy and just plain boring.
He's gonna keep a lot more than $6500. And he won't be driving no steenking GM product....................
So, the employee went to the court to file a complaint? The police never got involved until the warrant was issued?
That's a rhetorical question, if you didn't figure that out.
Whatever work you do or have done, Im sure you would be offended if you were lumped into the actions of a few who made poor decisions so please cut the garbage of throwing all officers into the same small basket of bad apples. I would have expected at least the same for you in your profession.
If you are offended by my comments about the actions of the police in this particular case, then I think you need to sit down and take a hard look at yourself and figure out why you are offended. Are you feeling guilty about something?
If someone in my profession were to make this kind of mistake, I'd be the first person standing up and saying that I'd throw the book at them. The fact that you aren't doing so says volumes about you.
One is generally asked if one has been convicted of a felony, a false arrest with no charges lodged doesn’t have to be reported unless one is being vetted for high security type jobs.
LOL, I was going to post something about "that's what he gets for buying a Government Motors product", but I was worried that some people wouldn't recognize sarcasm......
Have to agree the vehicle is completely average and as a govt motors vehicle I’d be very unlikely to buy one. However, I’d buy a chevy if the dealer paid me $2.2 million to do it.