FACT CHECK: Is Harley Davidson repossessing paid-up motorcycles belonging to bikers involved in the Waco shootout?

Claim:   Harley Davidson has been repossessing paid-off motorcycles belonging to owners involved in a biker shootout in Waco, Texas.

  UNCONFIRMED

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, June 2015]

Just read that Harley Davidson helps Waco PD to reposes motorcycles involved in the Twin Peaks incident even if they were not defaulting on their loan. Say it ain’t so!!!

Example:   On 17 May 2015, several motorcycle clubs convened at a Waco, Texas, location of the Twin Peaks chain of restaurants. Violence erupted amid rival biker factions that led to shootings which left nine attendees dead and eighteen more injured.

A number of controversies stemmed from the deadly incident (such as conflicting eyewitness statements about what took place at the shootout), and one of those controversies involved the fate of motorcycles confiscated by police in the aftermath of the incident. Rumors were circulated claiming that Harley Davidson and the Waco Police Department were in cahoots to seize and repossess the bikes of those present at the scene, whether or not the motorcycles were paid off or their registered owners were current on their payments.

On 12 June 2015, the Waco Police Department seemingly addressed this scuttlebutt on their Facebook page, describing a rough inventory of motorcycles impounded and returned to date:

We initially impounded 130 motorcycles and 91 other vehicles. As of June 10, 2015, 52 motorcycles and 47 vehicles have been released to the owners. In addition to those, 12 of the motorcycles and 3 of the other vehicles were released to the lien holders due to repossession.

On 15 June 2015, a blog post claimed manufacturer Harley Davidson had taken “bikes that were paid up and sold them, claiming a default of loan for being involved in criminal activity in California.” The blog’s author pointed to language (either in Harley Davidson Financial Services contracts or a Department of Consumer Affairs guide to Repossession Practices) stipulating that the use of a vehicle during the commission of a crime (or suspected crime) was grounds for forfeiture, regardless of whether the loan was current at the time the vehicle was impounded:

This morning someone told me it happens to them. So I called Harley Davidson Financial Services and asked. I have indeed confirmed that Harley took bikes that were paid up and sold them, claiming a default of loan for being involved in criminal activity.

This is a different state but it’s basically the same thing. Read the part in the contracts used by all harley dealerships and other dealership loans about using the vehicle to engage in criminal activity:

In some cases, you may not get your vehicle back at all. The legal owner can accelerate the maturity of your contract if:

• You provided false or misleading information on the credit application when buying the vehicle.

• You tried to avoid repossession by hiding the vehicle or taking it out of California.

• You destroyed, or threatened to destroy, the vehicle, or failed to take care of it.

• You committed, or threatened to commit, a criminal act of violence against the legal owner or anyone who tried to repossess the vehicle.

You used the vehicle, or allowed it to be used, in a crime, and the vehicle was seized by a federal, State, or local authority.

In general, police are required by law to provide notice of impounded vehicles to both the registered owners and all lienholders of those vehicles. Also, lienholders must typically provide police with a “hold harmless” affidavit and other evidence documenting that they are entitled to possession of a vehicle in order to claim it from police impound.

Without additional information, it would be difficult to say definitively whether Harley Davidson Financial Services (HDFS) exercised any claims over bikes impounded after the Waco shootout. We attempted to contact HDFS to inquire about the issue but could reach only representatives waiting to talk to active account holders (not media contacts). It appears, though, that civil asset forfeiture (rather than lienholder repossession) is the likely fate of unreturned bikes impounded by Waco police.

Three Waco Tribune articles examined whether motorcycles impounded at the scene would be taken from their owners for good. In an 18 May 2015 piece, the newspaper reported that owners might not be reunited with their motorcycles due to “civil forfeiture procedures”:

Even if the men bond out of jail, they likely won’t be riding their motorcycles home. The motorcycles were confiscated as part of the massive law enforcement investigation, and sources say they likely will be seized and forfeited by McLennan County through civil forfeiture procedures and sold at auction.

On 24 May 2015, the Waco Tribune published a far lengthier piece on the possibility that some of the bikes would be auctioned off. Titled “Vehicle forfeiture efforts could be lucrative, but difficult in Twin Peaks shooting,” that article provided local background regarding civil forfeiture practices for all cases in the district (dating back to at least 1989):

It’s possible some of the vehicles could be declared illegal contraband associated with a crime, and ownership transferred to the county through a process known as civil forfeiture. The collective value of the vehicles likely exceeds $1 million, assuming typical vehicle values.

As of Friday afternoon, McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna had not filed any civil forfeiture notices with the McLennan County district clerk. Reyna declined through a spokesperson to discuss this or any other aspect of the Twin Peaks case.

But Reyna is known for aggressive pursuit of civil forfeiture, and defense attorneys are watching his moves in this case where so much property is at stake and so many owners are in jail.

Yet another article published in the Waco Tribune, this one from 12 June 2015, quoted Waco Police Chief Brent Stroman, who provided an update regarding the then-current status of bikes that remained impounded. The paper again reported that some of the vehicles could be seized by police (not Harley Davidson) and sent to auction under extant civil asset forfeiture laws:

A total of 130 motorcycles and 91 other vehicles were impounded from the scene that day, Stroman said, a number slightly above the original estimate. Of those, 52 motorcycles and 47 vehicles have been released to the owners, while 12 of the motorcycles and 3 of the other vehicles were released to the lienholders to be repossessed.

Stroman said he did not know how many, if any, vehicles would be seized and put up for auction.

Ultimately, it appeared to be true that some of the bikes remaining in police impound lots in June 2015 were fated to go to auction regardless of whether owners were current on payments at the time the bikes were seized. However, multiple local newspaper articles that covered the situation in depth described the potential repossessions as being within the scope of the Waco Police Department and not Harley Davidson Financial Services.


Sources:

Messer, Olivia.   “Police Release More Details, Numbers in Twin Peaks Shooting.”     Waco Tribune.   12 June 2015.

Smith, J.B.   “Vehicle Forfeiture Efforts Could Be Lucrative, But Difficult in Twin Peaks Shooting.”     Waco Tribune.   24 May 2015.

Witherspoon, Tommy.   “Bikers Jailed Under $1 Million Bonds.”     Waco Tribune.   18 May 2015.