By all accounts, Mike Cooper shouldn't have been driving his 1961 Chevy Apache pick-up truck when police pulled him over last October. Cooper's long track record of traffic infractions had left him with a revoked drivers license.
But should the El Paso County Sheriff's Office -- which arrested Cooper -- have sold the truck while the 37-year-old repeat traffic offender was in jail awaiting trial?
Sheriff's department officials claim that in early December they sent Cooper a certified letter to his last known address, informing him he had 30 days to pay the impound fees or the truck would be sold.
The only problem is that at the time, Cooper was in the sheriff's custody awaiting trial at the county-run Criminal Justice Center. According to the inmate, he had no idea his truck was scheduled to be put on the auction block.
"I want to payed (sic) by them for stealing my truck and my property," Cooper wrote in a letter to the Independent earlier this month.
Well-known for writing letters complaining about jail conditions to newspapers and local officials, Cooper ultimately pled guilty to a felony charge of driving with a revoked license while being a habitual traffic offender.
But sheriff's office spokesperson, Lt. Ken Hilte, said the truck was not registered in Cooper's name, so the inmate has no claim to the vehicle. Hilte said that people whose cars have been impounded are sent certified letters. "So he had to know," Hilte said.
But Cooper's lawyer in the case, public defender Deborah Grohs said her client had just purchased the truck, so it had not yet been registered.
Grohs concedes Cooper has bad driving habits. (At the time of Cooper's arrest, the Chevy was unregistered, uninsured, and tagged with phony plates, which didn't even match each other.) But that doesn't mean the sheriff can take her client's property, Grohs added.
On Jan. 26, Judge Douglas Evers Anderson essentially agreed, signing a court order demanding that the truck "be returned to the defendant forthwith," because the truck could be considered evidence in the case. By that time, however, it was already too late -- the truck was sold on Dec. 28.