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‘I am the law’ cop costs town $5,000

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When Ryan Belcher and his fiancée, Daraina Gleason, broke down on the Indiana Toll Road in February 2004, Bill’s Professional Towing hooked up their van and towed it to a lot in Orland. Four days later, Belcher and Gleason went to Bill’s to remove some items from the van.

Company owner Bill McClanahan told them they could not leave the premises without paying the impounding fees or signing over their title. The couple refused, and McClanahan contacted police.

Deputy Marshal Vaughn Norton arrived and, along with four towing company employees, barred the couple from leaving. Norton threatened to arrest Belcher on disorderly conduct charges unless he signed over the title. The couple asked Norton to call a state trooper, but Norton refused, saying, “I am the law.”

The pair signed over the title. They later sued Norton for illegal seizure and violation of due process. They lost twice in lower courts, but the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned both rulings in 2007, sending their case to trial.

Norton said he thought he would have won his case, but the Orland Town Council settled with the couple for $5,000 to avoid a costly court battle.

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