What happens if you're an apartment-dweller who catches a wrecker driver in the act of illegally towing your car? You get attacked, according to a personal injury lawsuit filed in Tarrant County on Wednesday. Damion Gilbert says in his suit that he had already once caught Excalibur towing about to haul his truck from the Collin Park Apartments in Euless, where he was living at the time. That first time, the driver agreed to drop Gilbert's truck on the spot for a $200 "drop-fee," the suit says. The second time it happened, things went even worse.
Excalibur towing is so aggressive about trolling apartment parking lots for cars that supposedly don't have the right to park, that the state is trying to shut the company down for a year. According to Texas regulators, Excalibur drivers have a habit of taking people's car away from their own apartment parking lots without a legitimate, legal reason. (Like other companies we've written about, it collects money from car-owners who want their vehicles back.)
According to his lawsuit, Gilbert could tell the state a thing or two about Excalibur's aggressiveness. In late July of last year, Gilbert saw it happening again: a tow truck driver in his parking lot, preparing to hook up a car. This car, his suit says, belonged to Gilbert's mother.
"Hey, that's my car," Gilbert yelled out to tow truck driver Kyle Reid, the suit says. He ran toward the truck waving his hands in the air, trying to get the driver's attention the same way he had done before. It worked, but not how Gilbert intended. Reid allegedly stopped his truck, got out and sprayed pepper spray directly in Gilbert's face. "I have no comment," Reid said when we reached him on his cell-phone.
A police report detailing the alleged assault from the Euless Police Department tells a similar story. "When he got out, I was under the impression he was getting out to tell me why he towed the car. That's when he sprayed me with pepper spray to my entire face and body," Gilbert wrote in his police affidavit last year.
Gilbert collapsed to the ground as he got sprayed and injured both his ankles, spraining one and breaking the other, he says. Reid, meanwhile, allegedly got back in his tow truck, shouted a racial slur and drove away, leaving Gilbert on the ground and screaming in pain. "...as he drove pass [sic] me I heard him state 'you fucking nigger,'" Gilbert wrote to police. (In an interview with police, Reid denied making the racial slur).
Gilbert blindly crawled and yelled for help, and then mistakenly thought jumping in the apartment swimming pool would help end his pain, according to the suit:
When Mr. Gilbert finally reached the swimming pool he jumped in with all his clothes on in an effort to stop the severe burning sensation surrounding his eyes. Unbeknownst to Mr. Gilbert, as he has never been pepper sprayed before, the chlorine aggravates the pepper spray and the pain intensified and continued.
Reid later called police, claiming that he pepper sprayed a young male who had tried to assault him. A second caller, a witness, told police they saw a man who looked like he couldn't breathe at the complex, who took his shirt off and jumped in the pool. The police who visited the scene that night initially decided that Gilbert didn't break any law and left it at that. "Reid was not assaulted or verbally threatened by Gilbert. He merely assumed that Gilbert was going to assault him, so he used pepper spray to defend himself," the police report says.
After reviewing the report, Euless police Lieutenant Eric Starnes, who has tried to crack down on illegal towing in Euless, decided to investigate the case further. Gilbert showed Starnes his medical records, Starnes writes in his report, which confirmed that he had been treated for pepper spraying and the injured ankles. Gilbert denied provoking or attacking the driver in any way. The apartment manager told Starnes that "there have been other incidents where people tried to stop him [the tow truck driver] and he has not stopped." Reid told Starnes that Gilbert had been aggressive, but the lieutenant wasn't convinced. "Kyle could not really explain what he meant by aggressive," Starnes wrote. "I also asked Kyle if he continued to spray Damion once Damion fell to the ground," Starnes writes later in the report. "Kyle said he gave him one short spray and that was it."
It turned out that the car was legally parked — Reid returned to the apartment the night of the pepper spraying and agreed to give Gilbert's car back for free, the Euless police report says, after an officer pointed out that Gilbert's parking pass had slipped between the dashboard and windshield, making it just partially visible. Honest mistake! The Euless Police Department ultimately decided to charge Reid with assault and put a warrant out for his arrest. At trial, Reid was found not guilty.
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Gilbert's lawsuit filed this week is asking for an unspecified amount of money from Reid, Excalibur and the apartment complex. The suit is below: