The dispute is finally over.
In Baldwin County, Circuit Judge Clark Stankoski recently issued a firm ruling against the county’s Sheriff’s Office for the “improper and illegal” seizure of a 1968 Camaro belonging to Thomas Hadley, a Rabun resident. The twist in the tale is that the car is currently with a Kansas man who reported it as stolen two decades ago.
Judge Stankoski, who previously ruled against the Sheriff’s Office, has now given them and the state of Alabama a 43-day ultimatum to return the vehicle to Hadley. While the Baldwin County District Attorney Robert Wilters indicated a likely appeal, he refrained from commenting further on the case.
The controversy stems from Hadley’s purchase of the Camaro in 2016. After an investigation by the Alabama Department of Revenue linked the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to a stolen vehicle, Baldwin County sheriff’s deputies demanded Hadley to surrender the car. Following his refusal, they executed a warrant and seized the vehicle, handing it over to the Kansas claimant just minutes before a temporary restraining order was issued.
Judge Stankoski criticized the Sheriff’s Office's approach, stating that using criminal processes to facilitate a civil remedy was illegal. He noted that none of the deputies involved considered Hadley under criminal investigation nor intended to make an arrest, rendering the warrant procurement both improper and illegal.
Hadley’s defense is that he legally acquired the car from a Baldwin County resident who had owned it for several years. His attorney argued that the VIN matching the stolen car was from a replaced part and didn't reflect the car's true identity.
Judge Stankoski’s ruling didn't delve into the ownership dispute but suggested that the matter be resolved in the right forum with sworn testimonies from claimants. The case highlights the complexities of car ownership disputes, particularly involving vintage vehicles with a murky history.