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.
Back in the 90's I signed a lease for a Mercedes and the sales agent had put .00 per mile as the surcharge over 15,000 per year when the number was .25 per mile.
I saw it, signed it and took possession of the auto.
About two weeks later a Vice President from Mercedes leasing called and axed me to "re-negotiate" the lease.
I agree and said that in return for the .25 per mile that he wanted, I wanted to reduce the monthly payment by $200.00.
Never heard from him again.
Gives new meaning to the salesman’s pitch “It’s a steal”!
Unfortunately, it doesn't always work.
I have a friend that had a false arrest warrant dogging him for years. Every time he got stopped for a traffic violation, he risked being arrested and detained.
He had gone through the legal process to have it removed, but as I said earlier, it's like "whack-a-mole": it always popped back up.
NCIC doesn't seem to have the ability to reliably remove information. It's like Hotel California: you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.
This isn't the same. The bank ATM gives you $10,000 but the withdrawal slip says $1,000. You got more than the agreed amount.
In this case, the dealership countersigned a contract, selling a vehicle to the guy for a certain price. They AGREED to the sale price, even if it wasn't their intention.
How many times do dealers change contracts when the buyer pays too much?
At that point it doesn't matter. The cops don't do legal decisions. Once the warrant goes out, that is what they execute.
Not long ago, having your legal contract for your property to show the law was a good idea.
Your ATM example is faulty. In this case he had a signed contract where the dealer agreed to sell the vehicle for the price.
“An apology is not enough,” she said.”
I think that’s lawyer talk meaning instead of eleven dealerships owned it will soon be ten.
I once had a dealer sell me a car made in 1996. It was a used car which needed some work. I bought a bunch of parts for it but none of them fit. Come to find out it was a car made in 1993.
The dealer wanted to give me $500 back to fix the problem. I advised them that the District Attny said it wasn’t fraud as long as they gave me a refund.
They also paid for the parts which weren’t returnable.
Exactly on point about nurse licensing - please allow me to add another caveat on this guy perhaps applying for a concealed carry license in the future where the felony arrest would have to be disclosed if it were not expunged. It would likely result in a delay if the explanation on the app was not completely satifactory.
Another point of delay, if this stays in NCIC, would be the NICS delay when making a firearms purchase.
A car deal is a negotiated deal. It’s all about the negotiation. The bottom line of negotiation is the contract. If you negotiate a price and sign a contract that’s the end of it. The whole premise of the dealership is ridiculous. How about you buy a house and close the deal, then the builder says oops, mistake $20k more please or I’ll call the cops. Or you buy a new car for a negotiated price, sign the contract and a few days later they show up with the sticker price and demand the difference. If the dealership were to display the actual price they will sell the car for they might have a case, but you’ll never find a dealership with a “real” price.
I am an RN of 26 years(and living in Virginia), they ask about felony convictions, not arrests...at least in this area. Yet the hospitals I have worked at won’t necessarily hold all felonies against you, they like to know the details first.(mainly because of the shortage of EXPERIENCED nurses, there is often a willingness to overlook certain felonies that are rather esoteric or blue collar in nature.)
Besides his demonstrated false felony arrest with no charges lodged by the local DA would be easily explainable. The RN in question might have more difficulties oddly enough in disclsing any ongoing litigation against the dealer in question. Hospitals are very shy about hiring folks with ongoing lawsuits, garnishments, ect)
The judge who signed the warrant could/should be on the hook too.
Someone SAYING something is stolen isn't 'evidence', and judges are supposed to make sure there IS evidence of a crime before they issue a warrant.
One thing that bugs me about the story, they make no mention of confiscating the vehicle when the arrested Sawyer. Wouldn’t they do that, if it was considered, potential stolen property? They arrest the suspect, but don’t take the evidence?
They get dinged everytime the drawer is off. If she’s bad at being a teller...she’ll get written up or you were her last chance before being fired...
Yep, Mr Brad Anderson was trying to cover his butt to keep upper mngmt from knowing he totally screwed up. Sort of happened to us some years ago. We went to buy a new minivan from a local Pontiac dealer in Austin. We had previously declared bankruptcy from medical bills when our oldest had kidney failure so we relied on our bank to finance us. Anyway, we picked a spanking new mini van and got the okay from our banker whom my husband went to school with (small school and area west of Austin) salesman said we could take it before we had all the papers done. We informed him we were leaving for Lake of the Ozarks that weekend and would be back to sign papers and pick the car up. Not wanting to miss a sale, he AND his manager said to go ahead and take it since they had the okay on the phone from our banker. whoo hoo! So we did and left our 1987 burgundy Dodge Grand Caravan there. Put over 3,000 miles on that new sucker and had a wonderful time. Get back, ready to sign papers and lo and behold, Oliver (banker) tells them we need to come up with more money down. Everyone knew what we had in cash to put down with our car. Dealership was begging us to put more money down. We didnt have the thousands they wanted. (about $3,000) anyway, we left the vehicle, picked up ours and went back home new-car-less. I imagine some heads were rolling on that deal. Nice car too.
It sounds as if the dealer made a mistake on the price in the contract.
General common law states that if a seller makes a unilateral mistake of fact (such a mistake in math or a misstated price) in a written contract, and the buyer knows of the mistake and tries to take advantage of it and "jumps on it" by entering into the contract - then there is no enforceable written contract.
For that reason, as to the initial sale, it's important to me to know whether the the following part of the story is true:
". . . Davenport told Sawyer it would cost about $5,500 more than the black one and that Sawyer orally agreed to the higher price."
If Sawyer knew what the price was supposed to be, saw a lower price on the contract (which was there by mistake), and tried to take advantage of it, then Sawyer never had a contract to purchase. It's possible he saw a chance to pull a quick one on the car dealership and did.
After the dealership brought in the police instead of simply waiving its mistake or pursuing a civil action, the wrong it did far outweighed what Sawyer may have done.
Contracts is a full-year class in law school. A significant amount of time is spent learning about the circumstances under which there is no contract, even though there's a purported written contract signed by two parties.
“how did he get arrested. Couldnt he have just showed the contract to the police?”
No. They were serving an arrest warrant. In this case they do not try and determine if the law was broken. A judge has issued the warrant. They are following the judges orders and do not have discretion on arresting or not arresting the individual.
The game is over for the dealership! I like that.
Good on you.
I saw it, signed it and took possession of the auto.
When you saw the .00 per mile surcharge and signed the contract, did you know or have reason to believe that the .00 was a mistake?
Senior management of the dealership group apparently learned these lessons.
Lower level guys react out of fear, play CYA and so shame the entire organization.
It's like a Greek tragedy the way this gets played out again and again in organizations.
However, people on here who say 'a contract's a contract's a contract's a contract' need to spend some time with the ALI Restatement of Contracts, and some case law.
If party A makes a mistake in the written contract, like in price, and party B knows it or has reason to believe it, then party B can't sign the contract and take advantage of it.
That's generally the law, and that's ethical.
My point is that once you have messed up, an organization is smart to be aggressive and disclosing in terms of damage control. When mid-level managers present you with a bowl of lemons an enlightened boss starts passing out lemonade.
That makes sense. And yes, this dealership is going to pay dearly.
IF the checker gives you $20 too much, that isn’t a signed contract, that is an error, and you are legally and morally obligated to return the money. Just as if they gave you $20 less, and you didn’t notice right away, you would still be entitled to your money back.
Buying a car is a negotiation. No matter what is said verbally, the signed contract supercedes that. In fact, I’d bet the contract says exactly that — the contract is the only binding agreement, and no verbal agreements have any effect of law.
If you can get the dealership to agree to sell you a car for $5600 less than the retail price, you have done well. If it happens because the dealer is an idiot, well if YOU were an idiot and paid thousands more than you needed to, the dealer wouldn’t be trying to hand you money back.
It was the local people who lost their jobs and the GM and Chrysler Bond Holders who lost everything in that payoff to the unions, not to mention the non-union workers for Delphi.””
Accounts Payable got stiffed & preferred/common shre holders lost their holding to the Unions.
Did they get to deduct these losses on their income taxes?
I understand. The contract negates any morality. So if there wasn’t a contract the person should pay the correct amount or return the merchandise.I agree it’s legal and binding. Just looking for the moral justification.
What would happen if a customer returned to the dealership and asked for some money back claiming they paid too much? It seems this company thinks they can do the same to customers and lie to the police to have them arrested. The person making that false claim to the police should be arrested for making the false claim. $2.2 million for lying to the police and attempting to use the force of government to ruin a person’s life? Make that $10 million as a starting point, 25 years to life in prison for the offending liars, and close that dealership. Screwing with civil rights should never be a risk worth trying.
“they were doing exactly what their job spelled out, legally and ethically.”
No, they didn’t. They failed to investigate to a reasonable measure. They are not supposed to simply take anyone’s word at anything and then act on it. They are not a robotic organization.
“They can wipe out the arrest record. They do it all the time when they arrest the wrong person.”
Not really. In Colorado, records cannot be expunged by law, they can only be sealed, but people must still report the arrest when asked on government forms.
Even ethical companies get caught up in PR nightmares. Sometimes of their own making, like this one, or at the hands of others as in the case of McNeil Labs and the Tylenol tampering.
That the proprietor didn't find out about the lawsuit immediately points to major management shortcomings. It may cost a bundle to clean up this mess. If the dealership group is not better as a result it will have been money poorly spent.
As it is said, one aw-sh*t wipes out 100 attaboys.
I work for the government and we are not allowed to ask if someone has been arrested because it could have been a wrongful arrest. We only ask about convictions.
That’s good. So many people get arrested for no good reason and it can ruin them. For federal clearances all arrests must be reported even if sealed. Heck, even my FCC and FAA licenses have been held up due to bogus arrests after self-defense.
Had the dealer simply accepted the mistake and moved on, it would have been a 3k or so mistake- chump change. Likely the dealer would receive future business from friends of the fellow who bought the car - simply because they got a good deal off the vehicle.
The key to effective damage control is make the correct choices after a mistake has been made to limit further damage. This fellow doubled down on the mistake.