WASHINGTON – Christopher Daignault has been fighting for six months what he says is a bogus parking ticket on a car he doesn’t own and a license plate he reported lost in September of 2010.
The D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT) ticket alleges Daignault parked illegally on Nov. 7, 2012, near a D.C. courthouse in Northwest.
Initially, Daignault believed the citation may have been correct because he writes tickets for the District and sometimes ends up in court. He requested that the agency he works for not be revealed, but WTOP did corroborate his credentials.
“When I took another look, I noticed the tags were my old ones. I lost those tags in September 2010 and reported them as lost then,” he says.
DDOT also claims the vehicle cited was a BMW, but Daignault owns a Volkswagen. He filed for online adjudication with the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles, submitting registration for his new license plate and a D.C. speed camera ticket showing the new plates. He explained that he reported the plates lost to Montgomery County police and the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA).
The D.C. DMV adjudicates tickets in the District, handling about 200,000 cases each year.
“I thought it would be a very simple dismissal. Clearly, I was wrong,” says Daignault.
On March 15, 2013, hearing examiner Tonia Dansby wrote back to Daignault.
“A copy of the police report filed in reference to the theft was not submitted as evidence in support of this defense. This matter is continued for twenty (20) calendar days to allow the respondent to submit a copy of the official police report,” Dansby wrote.
“The police report number is not sufficient evidence to result in dismissal of the ticket. Once the evidence is received, it will be reviewed and a final decision will be made.”
Daignault wrote back on March 22, telling Dansby that the Montgomery County Police Department wanted to charge for the report. He attached receipts from the MVA — Maryland’s version of a DMV — showing the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) being switched to a new plate in September 2010.
He asked the DMV to accept this proof and dismiss his ticket.
“I know the plate wasn’t put on another car because I found the tag shortly after I reported it stolen and now it sits in my basement collecting dust,” he says.
On April 10, the DMV wrote Daignault to tell him he was found liable.
Shortly thereafter, Daignault contacted WTOP. He was able to get a copy of the police report and a statement confirming the plates were reported lost.
“While I cannot verify if Mr. Daignault has ever had a BMW registered in the state of Maryland, I can state that there currently isn’t one registered to him in Maryland or any registered to him since January 2012,” says MVA spokesman Buel Young.
“As for his plates, our records indicate that he received substitute plates. This is the indication (we put in the file) when a plate is reported lost or stolen.”
Young confirmed Daignault reported the plates lost in September 2010 and received the substitute plates shortly thereafter, although the agency failed to unlink the lost plates from his profile.
The Montgomery County Police Department report also confirms that Daignault reported the plates lost to Officer Sheila Hughes on Aug. 26, 2010, at 6:21 p.m.
On May 23, WTOP turned over these documents to the DMV to see if the agency would reconsider its original decision. While DMV spokeswoman Vanessa Newton acknowledged receipt of the documents, she said the decision against Daignault would stand.
“As we’ve discussed previously, this is an opportunity to inform WTOP listeners about the importance of providing supporting documentation when initially submitting a request for adjudication. Or, as in this case, providing DMV with the requested documentation within the stated time frame,” she says.
Newton says the agency gave Daignault multiple opportunities to disclose the police report, but he failed to do so. In a May 28 email to Daignault, DMV Director Lucinda Babers also wrote that his appeal of the ticket decision did not come in time.
“According to our records, your ticket has been fully reviewed and adjudicated in accordance with D.C. law,” Babers said. “Additionally, you did not submit an appeal to the hearing examiner’s 4/10/13 decision within the required 18 days as indicated in the hearing decision letter. Therefore, the adjudication process is complete.”
Babers has declined each opportunity to speak with WTOP since the beginning of its TicketBuster series. But she did comment to D.C. Council members Phil Mendelson, Mary Cheh and Jim Graham when they looked into the Daignault case.
“It should be noted that when the hearing examiner continued the customer’s hearing for 20 days to allow him to provide a copy of the police report, he declined by saying Montgomery County was going to charge him for the report. Therefore, additional legislation wouldn’t help this case,” she wrote.
As WTOP previously reported, D.C. Council Chairman Mendelson is considering introducing a measure similar to the Innocence Protection Act for drivers. It would allow the DMV to reverse a ruling if a driver can provide overwhelming evidence proving innocence within a reasonable time frame.
Daignault points out that the ticket could have been avoided if the DDOT parking enforcement officer took a picture of the license plate with the ticket.
“I think the officer likely made a simple mistake and typed a wrong digit into his device. It would’ve been fixed with a picture because, in fairness, this ticket is patently not mine,” he says.
DDOT policy doesn’t require parking enforcement officers to take photos of the license plates they ticket. DDOT writes about 15 percent of the tickets in the District.
The D.C. Department of Public Works (DPW) issues 85 percent of tickets and takes photos under a program called TicPix, which was established in October 2011. DPW Director William Howland touts the program as a quality-control measure to make sure drivers can defend themselves against erroneous tickets.
DDOT tells WTOP it plans to revisit its photo policy, but gave no timeline on when it plans to make a decision on the issue.
If you think you’re the victim of a bogus speed camera, red-light camera or parking ticket in D.C., Maryland or Virginia, WTOP may be able to help you cut the red tape. Email your case — along with documentation — to firstname.lastname@example.org.