DECATUR, Ala. (WHNT) – When you look at Alabama’s repossession statute it seems relatively vague on the surface. However, a Decatur-area attorney says looking at the additional context makes all the difference, especially in the case of Stephen Perkins.
The Decatur Police Department says the fatal encounter with Perkins began with a repossession effort.
News 19 has learned that the Alabama code states that a secured party can proceed with a repossession either with a court order or without a court order if the party does so without a “breach of the peace.”
Cole says most online versions of the Alabama Code § 7-9A-609 do not include judicial comments and that text further explains what breach of the peace means.
“The section does not authorize a secured party, which would be the finance company or whoever’s doing the repossession without a court order to utilize the assistance of a law enforcement officer,” Cole said.
He says the judicial comments printed in the state codebook take the statute a bit further.
“A number of cases have held repossessing secured parties use of a law enforcement officer, without benefit of the judicial process, constituted a failure to comply with the law,” Cole continued.
So what does that mean in terms of the Perkins case?
Authorities say his vehicle was being repossessed and they allege he pulled a gun on the tow truck driver. Cole says if that is what happened, the driver should have completely retreated at that point instead of returning with the police.
“The facts as we know them, based on the videos that are out there and at least the reporting initially, I don’t think there’s any argument that the tow truck driver did not breach the peace.”
And Cole says civil liability could go beyond the tow truck driver.
“The secured party, which would be the finance company, or whoever holds the note on the car, they can be held responsible for the breach of the peace that’s performed by their third party contractor, which would be the tow truck driver,” he explained. “So according to the official commentary, and according to the case law in Alabama, absolutely, the finance company and the tow truck driver could be held civilly responsible.”
The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency says they continue to investigate the matter. The City of Decatur has placed one officer on leave following the incident.
Surveillance video obtained by News 19 shows that the tow truck driver proceeds with the repossession, driving off with the pickup truck after Perkins is shot by police in his driveway.