A city attorney says his office is pursuing a vehicle forfeiture case against the passenger in Scott Owens' latest DWI charge because "everybody in Santa Fe" should know about Owens' DWI history.
The city released an audio recording by Travis Johnson, who called city attorney Alfred Walker a few days after his vehicle was seized and asked why it seems he is being singled out in this case.
(Mobile users CLICK HERE for audio of phone call ... specific reference to Scott Owens begins at 4:25 mark)
Johnson, himself impaired, was riding as a passenger in his 1962 Willys Jeep after allegedly asking Owens to drive when the two were pulled over in March.
In the recording, Johnson tells Walker, "I don't know Scott that well. I've just been caught up in all of this."
Walker has said he doesn't believe Johnson is an "innocent owner" despite his claims he didn't know about Owens' DWI history.
According to the city's vehicle forfeiture ordinance, vehicles can be seized and forfeited to the city if the vehicle is rendered a public nuisance because it is "operated by a person who is arrested for a DWI offense."
Johnson's attorney, Aaron Boland, in a written statement referred to another section of the ordinance that says: "If the owner demonstrates by notarized affidavit that the owner of the vehicle had no prior knowledge of the operator's DWI history, no action shall be taken against the vehicle."
Johnson stated in an affidavit filed last month that he "had no prior knowledge of the operator's DWI history." Johnson also said he lived in Cadillac, Mich., prior to moving to New Mexico in February 2010.
Owens was charged and later acquitted of vehicular homicide for a 2009 crash that killed four local teenagers. Owens admitted to being drunk while driving.
Walker wants a state district judge to decide whether Johnson is telling the truth.
"I recognize that our ordinance says that all a person has to do is execute that affidavit saying they didn't know," Walker said. "But I feel like allowing somebody to do that would be allowing somebody to commit perjury because it's a sworn statement. We want a district court judge to determine whether or not the affidavit is true or not."
Boland thinks his client, in being denied a decision by the city on the affidavit, is being singled out and denied his right to due process.
"What makes the comments of Mr. Walker so concerning is that he flat out says he's treating this case differently because its involves Scott Owens," Boland wrote in his statement.
"These comments bring up serious questions about the due process being applied by the City," Boland wrote, "and whether the citizens of Santa Fe are being afforded equal protection under the law."
Walker disagrees because Johnson was provided a hearing in April before a city hearing officer and will be given a hearing in state District Court to fight for his Jeep.
"We certainly believe it meets the requirements of due process and obviously a trial in front of a judge is due process, as well," Walker said.
Despite saying Friday that the city is not treating Johnson differently than any other citizen in Santa Fe to which the vehicle forfeiture ordinance applies, Walker said, "We're pursuing this case because we believe that everybody in Santa Fe knows Scott Owens' DWI history."
A hearing date for the case has not been set.
Contact Nico Roesler at 986-3089 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
ON THE WEB
u Hear the audio recording online at santafenewmexican.com.
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