MITCHELLVILLE, Md. - A Maryland woman who received a parking ticket in Northwest D.C. on the same day she went to both a funeral in Mitchellville and the emergency room in Columbia says she was the victim of an erroneous citation and won't drive in the District anymore.
A D.C. Department of Public Works (DPW) ticket writer issued the ticket at 7:11 a.m. Jan. 10 in the 1300 block of Columbia Road NW for parking in a residential parking zone without a permit. The DPW writes about 1.5 million tickets in D.C. each year, or about 85 percent of all parking citations.
The driver, Susan Shorters, only learned about the ticket on Feb. 12 when she received a notice of unsatisfied tickets. By that time, the ticket total had doubled from $30 to $60.
"I work in Bowie, not in D.C. I do not live in D.C. and I rarely drive into D.C. I've looked up this location and I can tell you I've never been there before either," says Shorters.
On most days, Shorters couldn't be sure that she didn't go into D.C. But she says she knows her whereabouts on Jan. 10.
"I dropped my daughter off at school at 9 a.m., had a conference call at the office, then attended a funeral for the mother of a dear friend," she says. "Then, unfortunately, my father suffered a stroke and I was at an emergency room in Howard County until midnight."
In an email to WTOP and D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Director Lucinda Babers, Shorters went further.
"It makes no logistical sense for me to be in D.C. at 7:11 in the morning, then in Mitchellville to drop off my daughter, then go to a meeting in Bowie. That's nearly impossible on any day, given traffic in this region," she writes.
Shorters provided a copy of the funeral program and records of her father's admittance into Howard County General Hospital.
Earlier this month, a DMV hearing examiner ruled that Shorters was liable for the infraction. The DMV adjudicates parking violations in the District, hearing about 200,000 cases per year.
"Respondent has not provided sufficient evidence to dismiss the ticket. The first meeting that she referred to and provided the email as evidence occurred more than one hour after the ticket was issued. She did not provide sufficient evidences to prove she was in Mitchellville, Md. at 7:30 a.m.," according to the ruling.
DMV spokeswoman Vanessa Newton explained it further.
"While Ms. Shorters provided evidence regarding her personal whereabouts, she did not provide evidence about the location of her vehicle at the time the ticket was issued," she writes in a statement to WTOP.
However, the ticket also raises questions about a DPW program to protect against erroneous citations. In Sept. 2011, the agency started a program called TicPix that allows drivers to see images of a violation online. Certain violations are exempt from images, but the overall goal is to improve accuracy and correct errors.
In this case, no photograph was posted online, despite the fact that the infraction did not fall into an exempt category.
"There are tickets for which one or more photographs were taken, but the reviewer determined the photographs did not sufficiently illustrate the violation," DPW spokeswoman Linda Grant says in a statement to WTOP.
"An element of a parking enforcement officer's performance plan is taking photographs of the violations and the lack of images to accompany a ticket is counted negatively against performance. Supervisors audit each ticket writer's tickets and note the presence or absence of images."
Shorters believes the image would have been dispositive in her case, showing that two digits likely were transposed or a typographical error occurred. But Grant tells WTOP no image exists on DPW computers.
"It bothers me that I have to prove the negative that my car wasn't at a specific location at a specific time, but the DPW isn't held accountable for not having a photograph to show to prove their case. I simply was not in D.C. on the date in question," says Shorters.
As far as images, DMV spokesman Vanessa Newton says that D.C. law does not require the DPW to produce photographs to prove their case to a hearing examiner.
"It appears they (hearing examiners) are predisposed to ruling in favor of the ticket and against the citizen, so that they are forced to pay," says Shorters.
She believes there is a war of attrition going on where ticket writers and hearing examiners try to wear down drivers into paying up out of frustration.
Earlier in July, D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh told WTOP that she may hold oversight hearings to determine whether DMV hearing examiners are instructed or pressured to find ways to rule against drivers. D.C. issued 1.8 million tickets last fiscal year, earning the city $92.5 million in revenue.
Shorters says she will now re-examine her travel habits, telling WTOP she will conduct her business in Montgomery and Prince George's County and avoid driving into D.C. at all costs.
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