The Auburn Police v. Suzette Fox – A War Story by Sue Fox
Auburn, Washington – a suburb of Seattle: The trouble all started in June 2003 when Officer Douglas Fiani of the Auburn Police Dept. lied, and called me down to Auburn on false pretenses. I had given my then boyfriend $800 to use to buy a car. On his way to do this, Auburn police stopped the car he was riding in and arrested him. The money was seized. That afternoon I received a phone call from Officer Fiani, who informed me that my boyfriend had been arrested, and asked about the money. I told him that, yes, I had given it to him, and that it was for the purchase of a used car. In the evening, Officer Fiani called me again. He said I could come down to Auburn and pick up my boyfriend's property, including the $800, if I got there before the end of his shift — otherwise he would lose the money, since he was being transported to county jail. He said my boyfriend requested this, and the police chief OK’d it. I replied that it might take me awhile, but I would get there as soon as I could.
As I was driving to Auburn, Officer Fiani called again. He asked me to please hurry up, as his shift was almost over. He told me not to park in the parking lot, but to just pull up in front of the police station – he would be waiting. Well, I parked in the lot anyway, knowing that there was no parking in front of the station. I walked quickly to the front of the police station, and began to apologize to Officer Fiani for taking so long. He wanted to know where my car was, and seemed upset that I had parked in the lot. He wanted to see my car right away. Then another officer – Sgt. Scott Near – came out from behind the bushes. They escorted me towards my vehicle, one on each side of me. I pointed to my 2003 Ford Ranger pickup parked in the lot: “See, there it is.”
They ordered me to put my hands behind my back and slapped handcuffs on me. I asked them to please tell me what was going on. With that, they twisted my wrists till I was down on my knees on the sidewalk crying out in pain. Officer Fiani yelled at me to “Shut the f**k up”. That was fine with me – I wouldn't say a word. Officer Fiani said, “See that truck over there? You'll never see it again. It's ours now. And you – you're going to jail for a long, long time. Ha – Ha!!”
I was booked into jail for the first time in my life. I was outraged. I claimed my right to remain silent and just asked for my phone call. I was held in Auburn jail for a day and a half – then awakened in the middle of the night and told to get out. They didn't have to tell me twice. My truck had not been impounded nor was it searched. I filed a complaint with the City of Auburn. I had no criminal record; I had done nothing wrong, and was appalled at the way I had been treated. I received a polite reply from the Chief of Police saying that they did a thorough investigation of the incident, and found that nothing out of order had been done. I spoke with an attorney, who suggested I file a claim on the $868 that had been seized from my boyfriend – which I did immediately.
On July 11, 2003, I received a summons in the mail saying that I had been charged with the crime of “obstructing a police officer” in Auburn.
On July 24, 2003, I was arrested on a bogus “delivery” charge in Auburn. I had in my possession my cell phone, the keys to my son's house, my ATM card, my driver's license and a $20 bill. I never saw any of these things again – the police kept them. Weeks later, when Officer Fiani was asked about the $20 bill –he replied, “Oh, I kept it. It was drug money.
On August 8, 2003, I received a summons from King County District Court for a drug charge originating in Auburn – I had no clue what that was about.
In the first week of August, I went to the bank to get money to pay a bill. I was shocked and dismayed when they told me my account had been frozen, and seized by the Auburn Police. I had received no notice of this – I called my attorney. He said they had to notify me by sending me a seizure notice. On August 11, 2003, I received the seizure notice in the mail, saying that my account had been seized on July 28! I had been writing checks in good faith during this time. Anything that hadn't cleared by July 28 would bounce! I wrote letters of apology to the 16 companies or people who would have their checks returned. On August 12 I filed a claim for the $9485 in my bank account.
We could not understand why they had seized my account. Anyone reviewing my account records would readily see that all the deposits had been checks – government checks. There were no suspicious transactions, no cash deposits, and no evidence of illegal activity. My attorney requested the immediate return of seized property for those very reasons. His request was ignored.
On August 12, Officer Fiani called me to taunt me saying, “The bank doesn't have anything of yours. I have your money now. You have nothing!” All I had were 16 returned checks and one pre-authorized payment to repay, plus all the bank charges on both ends for the returned checks. As a result, I lost my cell phone service and was charged a $600 early termination fee. I lost my health insurance coverage permanently – it could not be reinstated.
August 20 was my hearing for the $868 seized from my boyfriend. I was awarded $600. It was to be paid “promptly” – said City Attorney Daniel Heid. Not true – only after many, many phone calls from my attorney did I finally receive the check late in September.
August 26 I went to court for the “obstructing a police officer” charge. It was dismissed before court even began. I went to King County District Court for that drug charge from Auburn, only to find out that it had already been dismissed. Both bogus charges appeared to be purely harassment.The City of Auburn would not schedule a hearing for the money from my bank account – their calendar was too full. My attorney kept calling them. Finally I received a hearing notice for Oct. 15 – I could hardly wait. On Oct. 9 the City Attorney requested a continuance because he wanted to go out of town. I told my attorney no way would I agree to a continuance – I had waited long enough.
Oct. 15 – Time for my hearing at last! Of course, mine was the last one of the day – but the City Attorney was there. He hadn't left town after all. My hearing began with the City Attorney asking for a continuance – he had to catch his plane soon – but he'd be back in a couple of weeks! His request was granted, of course, and my hearing was rescheduled for Oct. 29 – over 3 months after my money had been seized.
October 29 – Auburn City Hall conference room – His Honor, the Chief of Police was presiding. All the players were there: Daniel Heid – City Attorney, Officer Douglas Fiani, Sgt. Scott Near, Detective. Cecilia Lee. My attorney had listened in on some forfeiture hearings held by the Chief, and had noticed that he had not been applying the statute correctly. Of course, the decisions had all been for forfeiture. When the hearing began, my attorney immediately cited the statute and pointed out the error the Chief had been making, holding him accountable for adhering to the law. The burden of proof was on the City, and although Officer Fiani and Detective. Lee lied under oath in an effort to make their case, they had no evidence, and they had no proof. His Honor, the Chief of Police, ruled that all the money that had been in my bank account was to be returned to me immediately, plus attorney's fees. The City Attorney's face turned red, and he lost his cool. The police stomped angrily out of the room.
A week later, the City Attorney said they needed an itemized bill from my attorney, accounting for his time, before they could process my check. This was done, and another week went by. My attorney's calls weren't returned. Then the City Attorney went out of town. A week or so later, Sgt. Near called my attorney's secretary to ask her advice. He said they were trying desperately to get me my money – but there was a problem: it was in the form of a cashiers check, and he didn't know what to do with it. Should he try to cash it? But maybe then they'd try to arrest him. He didn't know – he would call her back. He called back, said he went to the bank and tried to cash it and thought he would be arrested – so he put it in the City's bank account. The city would have to cut me a check and that would take some time — “So sorry about the delay.” I finally got my money Dec. 3.
My boyfriend had to go to court on a new charge. Officer Fiani was at his arraignment, and went over to speak with him before court began. He said, “You poor sucker – you've got a woman who doesn't have a clue how the game is played. She started a war when she sued us for the $800. That was OUR money – it was DUE us. That first arrest was meant as a warning – but she didn't take it. Now she won the $9000, and we're really pissed. We're trying our best to get her – but we can't get her very good – so we're going to get YOU!” My boyfriend asked me to please not do anything else to piss off the police.