Sunday, February 5, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

City Was a Car Trap, Fired Worker Says

DALLAS (CN) - A Dallas suburb fired an employee to retaliate for her reporting illegal activity by the police chief involving as many as 10 impounded cars a day, the woman claims in a whistleblower lawsuit.

Esperanza Canales sued Cockrell Hill in Dallas County Court.

An enclave, Cockrell Hill is completely surrounded by Dallas. It has a total area of 0.6 square miles and a population of 4,200. The city is the only defendant.

Canales said she reported her suspicions of illegal activity in 2013 to Mayor Luis Carrera, among others.

"Specifically, plaintiff reported to the mayor, the auditors and other employees that vehicles were being illegally impounded and were being sold by the chief of police directly to individuals in violation of the law," the complaint states.

"Plaintiff's employment was terminated on December 30, 2013. Subsequently, in early March of 2014, plaintiff discovered that the reason that she had been terminated was due to her reporting of the illegal activity."

Carrera placed Police Chief Michael Sellers on administrative leave in March after a citizen complained about the direct selling of abandoned vehicles to buyers, CBS affiliate KTVT reported. Sellers then resigned. Dispatcher Lisa Maier, who allegedly wrote up the paperwork for the vehicle sales, also resigned, the TV station reported.

Carrera told KTVT the city impounds 200 to 300 cars a month.

At a March 25 City Council meeting after an inquiry into the allegations, the council rescinded a policy allowing officers to take home abandoned cars. Carrera said information showed officers would sometimes use the cars nonwork duty.

About 10 people at the meeting were concerned the city intentionally made it difficult for Spanish-speaking residents to reclaim their vehicles, KTVT reported.

City officials did not respond to a request for comment this weekend.

Canales wants her job back with benefits and seniority, and damages for violations of the Texas Whistleblower's Act.

She is represented by Paula Wyatt in San Antonio, who did not respond to a request for comment Saturday.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.