The leader of Detroit’s City Council is looking into allegations of price gouging and harassment by a city-based towing company that’s up for a contract with the Detroit Police Department.
Council President Mary Sheffield on Monday sent a formal list of questions to Detroit Police Chief James White after organizers with New Era Detroit, a community advocacy group, posted online videos of a weekend dispute with Goch & Son’s Towing at an apartment complex near the Detroit Medical Center Receiving Hospital on St. Antoine. New Era Detroit founder Zeek Williams told the City Council that hospital visitors use the lot of the Medical Center Courts apartments because there are limited parking options nearby, which leaves Detroiters susceptible to being towed and facing steep fees to recover their vehicles.
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“(Goch & Son’s) are permitted to tow, but the way that they’re towing is illegal, it’s predatory and we’re not going to stand for that in the city,” Williams argued during the council’s Tuesday formal session. “So we’re down here to get support from the City of Detroit to do something about this.”
Sheffield said she sent a memo to White to get to the bottom of the complaints her office has received about Goch & Son’s. In the meantime, a proposed five-year, $187,500 contract between Goch & Son’s and DPD has been delayed.
“I’ve seen videos, I have been getting called left and right about some of the unfair treatment that is taking place at Medical Center apartments,” Sheffield said. “We are looking into it and also we’ll be holding the contract until we get some solid answers.”
Goch & Son’s owner Mike Goch told BridgeDetroit Tuesday that his company was hired by the apartment management company in January to remove cars that don’t have a permit to park there. Goch said Wayne State University students and hospital visitors using the lot had made it difficult for people who live in the apartments to find open spaces. Goch said his company has complied with applicable laws at the state and local level.
“Our record is perfect,” Goch said Tuesday. “We’ve been looked at, examined, we keep records, we follow the ordinance. We do exactly what the ordinance says. We’re working for people that have a problem. They’re trying to run an apartment complex and parking for their tenants, but at certain points, people have come home and hadn’t had a parking spot.”
Officials with DPD did not immediately respond Tuesday to requests for more information about what occurred.
Towing companies have been a long-running source of frustration among Detroiters, and the industry is at the center of an ongoing federal corruption probe that led to the conviction of former longtime Detroit councilman Andre Spivey, who pleaded guilty last year to bribery on claims he and an aide accepted $36,000 for consideration of towing issues before the council.
Detroit’s previous City Council passed an ordinance last October aimed at overhauling predatory towing practices. Under the ordinance, towing companies must receive approval from DPD before removing a vehicle and the companies can’t take a vehicle if its owner shows up before the car is towed.
Williams shared a stack of photos with Sheffield’s office, which he said were taken from the apartment parking lot. The photos, he said, show a spotter for the towing company flagging cars that don’t have a permit and other images, which Williams said, purports towing employees breaking into vehicles. Goch said some of the photos appear to be years old, and said his employees do not break into cars.
“The police need to see the VIN number,” Goch said. “So when we call the car in, if we can’t get the VIN we do it by the plate, but the police officer then needs to verify the VIN. So they’re unlocking the doors for police officers. We’ve never had anybody accuse us of stealing anything. All of our trucks have video cameras. Our yard has 46 cameras. I’ve never had an instance where somebody has said ‘my stuff has been stolen.’”
Goch & Son’s Towing is headquartered in Detroit and is one of the largest tow truck operators in southeast Michigan. The company has contracts with various city departments, Goch said, and its website notes that the company also works with the Michigan State Police, Federal Railroad Police, the FBI and dozens of municipalities in Wayne, Washtenaw, Monroe, and Macomb counties.
New Era Detroit posted videos on its Instagram account over the weekend showing several members of the group angrily confronting Goch & Son’s employees. The video shows organizers hurling insults at an employee parked in his tow truck, arguing that the company is preying on vulnerable people trying to use the nearby hospital.
Williams posted another video online Tuesday pushing for the DMC to create more parking options, and calling on the city to remove parking meters on surrounding streets.
“It’s supposed to be free parking for everybody, sounds good and logical, but the problem is that they have everybody who works at the hospital utilize the same parking garage,” notes Williams in the video, adding the hospital has one parking deck underground. “Days upon days we go down there, we ride around, can never find a place to park … What pennies do ya’ll need to make off people who are going to see a doctor or in the middle of an emergency crisis?”
Williams said Detroiters have been charged $600 or more to recover their vehicles after being towed, which can be a disastrous cost for low-income families. Goch said fees are comparable to other towing companies in the area.
Drivers across Metro Detroit also were reportedly upset with Goch & Son’s over how much the company charged them to recover cars that were towed from local freeways that were flooded in June 2021.
Anyone who has a dispute about a towing charge can file a petition with the 36th District Court within 20 days of the vehicle being towed. Motorists who want to complain about towing prices can also contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at (517) 335-7599.
Goch & Son’s posted a Monday response to some of the claims on its Facebook page arguing New Era Detroit threatened towing employees with “thug-like vigilante tactics” and “hate slurs.” The Detroit Police Department was called to the scene.
“We understand that the towing of illegally parked vehicles from the Medical Center Courts will always be a hot topic of debate,” Goch & Son’s Facebook statement reads. “During our time servicing the contract for these apartments, we have often heard the complaint that we tow single mothers, the elderly, and veterans, or purely based on race. The reality is that we tow 100% of the vehicle owners that choose to disrespect the single mothers, the elderly, the veterans, and every other resident or permitted guest of the Medical Center Court Apartments.”
The towing company also posted what appears to be a portion of a statement from the Plymouth Non-Profit Housing Corporation, owners of Medical Center Courts Apartments, which states Goch & Son’s “performs a necessary service which protects our property and our paying tenants from illegal and unauthorized vehicles which are often parked or dumped on our parking lot.”