The Motor Supply Co. and Meineke Car Care Center parking lot on Monday on State Street in Augusta. Cars of Black Lives Matter protestors were towed from that lot while they were at that event Sunday, Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — A social media post Sunday night accused city police of retaliating against Black Lives Matter protestors by directing them to park in a private lot, causing some vehicles to then be towed.

Augusta Deputy Police Chief Kevin Lully denied the accusations, widely shared on Facebook, echoing Monday what the police department posted on social media Sunday, that officers can’t direct people to park on nor can it have cars towed from private property.

The cars were apparently towed while their owners were taking part in a peaceful protest that brought more than 1,000 people to Augusta. The protest stretched from the State House, around Capitol Park before finishing to the field beside the Kennebec Valley YMCA.

Amanda Brown, a Yarmouth woman who attended the protest, said in a Facebook post published late Sunday that Augusta police “set us protesters up” to have their cars towed. The post said police directed a number of cars into a parking lot near of Meineke Car Care Center at 268 State St., which is just before where the road was blocked off for the protest.

“The police told us we were all set and we went on our way,” she said in the post. “When we returned from the protest, the entire parking lot was empty. Every single car had been towed.”

Brown said someone witnessed the cars being towed, adding that she paid $118 to get her car back. She claimed that police “acted childishly in order to retaliate at protestors who were trying to stand up for black lives.”

“After telling 30+ people that it was okay to park there, they towed every single one,” Brown wrote. “They left a whole bunch of people stuck in the middle of Augusta.”

She later edited her Facebook post to clarify she later found out it was the business owner that requested the cars be towed, not Augusta police.

In a Facebook message Monday, Brown said she made her post because it seemed like “a retaliation from those who don’t support the protests.”

“I have been made aware that the owner of Meineke doesn’t support (Black Lives Matter) and was threatening people of the protest who were on his property,” she said. “If police could help him, why didn’t they help us?”

Brown said a towing company employee and an Augusta police officer told her that the police department called in two towing companies, KDT Towing and Mike’s Towing, on behalf of the Meineke owner.

“The fact that police directed us into the lot, told us it was OK and we were ‘all set,’ and then called them in without notifying us is wrong,” Brown said. “We were less than a mile away, sitting on the field at the YMCA; an officer could have easily let us know that we needed to move our cars.”

In response to Brown’s post, Augusta police made their own statement on Facebook.

“The Augusta Police Department does not have authority to have vehicles towed on private property and that can only be done so by the owner of the private property,” the post reads. “Our department keeps a log of every vehicle we call to be towed on public property and we did not make any of these requests during today’s events.”

Lully said Monday two officers were positioned near Frosty’s Donuts with the directive to have vehicles turn west off of State Street and drive to Sewall Street, where vehicles could park at the parking lot at the State House or in a nearby parking garage.

“We can’t utilize … private property in that capacity,” he said.

Lully said it is against the law for department’s to authorize parking in private lots. He said it is also illegal for the department to tow someone from a private lot. Lully said “no permission was given to anybody to park (at) Meineke.”

When asked if there was audio or video to confirm that, Lully said there was not. He said the department does not have body cameras, but does carry audio recorders and has dash cams, but neither were used.

“We have audio recorders that we can activate while conducting investigations, and we have video for our dash cams,” Lully said, “but since it was just a traffic post, they are not activated.”

He said Monday that a supervisor and an officer met with the Meineke Car Care Center owner before cars were towed from the lot. Further, Lully said the officers recommended to the owner of Meineke to not tow the vehicles.

When asked if the department was retaliating against protestors, he said “absolutely not.”

“We felt the event went really well,” Lully said. “We thought we worked really well with organizers and protestors.”

In response to Lully’s comments, Brown said police “made no attempt” to stop people from parking in the lot and continued to say officers OK’d parking in the lot. She also mentioned that the lot did not have any signs noting that parking was not allowed.

“If it wasn’t recommended to park in that space, the APD should have done their job in notifying protesters that we needed to find another place to park,” she said. “For them to watch the entire lot fill up and not tell anyone not to park there isn’t right.”

In response to the police reportedly advocating for the owner to not tow the vehicles, she said the police could have notified protestors at the nearby YMCA before the cars were towed.

“Why wouldn’t they come down the YMCA … where we were sitting peacefully from 4-6 p.m.?” she said.

Erin Macro of Pittston said her car was about to be towed when she walked up to the Meineke parking lot. She said a tow truck was blocking her path to the street, but she backed out before her vehicle could be towed.

Macro said she looked at signs on the business, showing that it was closed on Sunday and figuring it wouldn’t be “an inconvenience” to park there. She said she did not speak with police about parking.

When asked if she agreed with Brown’s post, she said she did not know “how they were involved if at all,” or “their intent or what was said to people.”

“I know (Brown) said they were funneling cars into the lot, but they were just funneling people down the side street,” she said. “I don’t think there’s evidence to point the finger at them.”

Macro said the police may have made a mistake and told people it was OK to park there, but in that case, the department could have tried to stop the towing from happening.

Jennifer Taylor of Gardiner, who commented on Brown’s post, said she was warned by police that her car was in danger of being towed.

“I parked in that lot. I didn’t ask if it was OK because many people were parking there. The police waved us down that street so I assumed (incorrectly),” Taylor’s comment read. “When we returned, the officers asked if I had a car there and I said yes. He said the owner of the business was having cars towed, and encouraged us to let others know to come move their cars.”

Taylor said she didn’t believe police officers were “purposely setting people up to be towed,” adding that she isn’t “much of a conspiracy theorist.” However, Taylor said she was “not terribly impress(ed) with the owner of Meineke” over the towing.

“No one meant to be disrespectful or rude,” she said. “I found the towing to be extreme and would not use the business as a result.”

A woman named Vanessa Woodward commented that she had parked in that lot around 1 p.m., and the police road block had not been set up in that area. She said she had left the protest early, about 4 p.m., when she was approached by a police officer.

“He told us that the owner (of Meineke) was having everyone towed, to go straight to our vehicle, do NOT interact with him, and if we knew anyone who was there to contact (text, call etc.) them ASAP,” Woodward wrote. “I regret not getting the officer’s name because he seemed pretty sincere and genuinely helpful toward us. I am deeply sorry we didn’t get the word out to other protestors because I don’t think I personally know anyone else who went.”

An employee at the Meineke Car Care Center at 268 State St. told the Kennebec Journal that the owner had no comment Monday morning. Property tax records from the city show that the property at 268 State St. is owned by York Holdings LLC, which is based in Skowhegan.

Stacey Charest, owner of KDT Towing, said her business towed six vehicles from the lot after the owner of the property called them. She said the people picking up their cars were not happy with their cars being towed, but were pleasant when picking them up.

Mike Wilson, owner of Mike’s Towing, said the company towed nine vehicles from the property at the request of the property owner. Wilson said he also offered rides to people who had their vehicles towed.

“It had nothing to do with the police,” he said.

Charest said it used to be common practice that people would park in empty lots, but an increased worry in the property owner’s liability if any property were to be damage has caused owners to crack down on unauthorized parking. Charest said the cars being towed had nothing to do with the protest and was not a “set up by the police.”

Brown said she did not want the message of the protest — resisting police brutality and institutional racism — to be forgotten due to the towing issue.

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