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DA Merriweather weighs in on CLT Wild West Towing (NC)

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Charlotte’s top prosecutor tells WBTV his office needs more tools to successfully carry out criminal cases involving tow truck drivers and companies.

WBTV spoke with Mecklenburg County District Spencer Merriweather following our investigations into the connections between some Charlotte towing operations and criminal activity.

The WBTV report on the Wild West of Charlotte Towing found tow truck drivers often escape criminal prosecution even after racking up dozens of arrests.

Merriweather spoke on the condition that he couldn’t discuss any current case or defendant facing charges because of ethical guidelines required in his job.

“Everything about our law is centered on the value that person’s innocent until proven guilty,” Merriweather said. “That requires prosecutors to make sure that their case is tried in a court of law and not in front of a camera.”

However, there are so many common themes among the cases Merriweather was willing to discuss ways in which his office is hindered by state law.

WBTV’s analysis of criminal cases involving towing companies revealed that stolen or missing property from a car rarely turns into a successful prosecution.

Towing company owner David Satterfield was facing several felony firearm charges in 2023 that were all dismissed because of a lack of evidence and witness statements, according to prosecutor notes on the dismissal records. Those situations play out hundreds of times at different companies and cover everything from stolen property to damaged vehicles.

“If something goes missing and then it turns up a couple of days later, you have no idea how it got in the hands of the person who ultimately was found with it,” Merriweather said.

Tow truck yards are equivalent to a black hole when it comes to evidence.

“Do we need tools to be able to connect the dots to make for stronger prosecutions? The answer is definitely yes,” Merriweather said.

“It has been the argument of prosecutors for many years that our law should be strengthened with regard to money laundering, with regard to criminal enterprise, to catch up with what the federal government has,” Merriweather said.

Despite state law requiring tow truck companies to accept various forms of payments from consumers, WBTV has heard countless stories about companies only accepting cash or mobile money transfers. If credit cards are accepted, fees can be more than 20 percent of the total cost.

Towing in North Carolina isn’t regulated by any state or local agency. WBTV’s investigation has even found tow truck drivers without a valid driver’s license and many of the drivers we have investigated have been arrested in the past for driving with a revoked license.

Industry experts say changes need to happen at the state level and can’t be fixed by a patchwork of ordinances at the local level.

“If there are ways that the laws can be sort of enhanced to create those standards that many would say don’t exist, maybe that’s something we should look into,” Merriweather said.

WBTV requested an interview with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Johnny Jennings for this story. The department would not make Jennings, or any other law enforcement officer, available for an interview.


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