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Mitchell man's lawsuit over impounded car ownership dismissed by federal court

Judge: Government agencies didn't deprive man's constitutional rights

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A Mitchell man’s lawsuit against local government agencies over the ownership of a car was dismissed in federal court this week, saying there was no wrongful conduct from those agencies.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Roberto Lange granted summary judgement to the defendants of the Davison County Treasurer’s Office and the Mitchell Department of Public Safety in a lawsuit filed by Karim Sissoko, 58, of Mitchell.

In a lawsuit filed in 2020, Sissoko had alleged that the government agencies and Billion Auto had defamed him by “publishing statements in South Dakota and beyond in order to tarnish my good name and character.” (The Billion portion of the case was dismissed in July 2020.)

Sissoko traded in a 2014 Toyota Rav4 in 2018 but the vehicle was impounded in Minneapolis in 2020, still in his name. Sissoko wrote that he brought the lawsuit to court because it was the competent authority to resolve the matter. But Lange wrote that neither entity wronged Sissoko over his former car.

“The undisputed material facts establish that the county defendants neither engaged in wrongful conduct nor did anything to deprive Sissoko of a constitutionally protected federal right,” Lange wrote.

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The judgement provides some clarity on what actually happened with the vehicle in question. In September 2018, when Sissoko traded the Toyota, the title and registration for the vehicle remained in Sissoko’s name. That's because Ricardo Altamirano Cruz, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, did not register or license it when he purchased the Toyota later in 2018, according to federal court documents.

In January 2020, Sissoko got a letter from the city of Minneapolis in Minnesota saying that a vehicle registered and titled in his name was impounded there and he needed to retrieve it. Sissoko eventually retrieved the vehicle from Minneapolis and brought it back to Mitchell.

Minneapolis Police reported that Cruz said the vehicle had been stolen. Cruz said he purchased the vehicle in 2018 but never licensed it and after a snowstorm, it was impounded. When Cruz went to get the vehicle at the impound lot, he learned that because the VIN number was still registered to Sissoko, the impound lot released it to Sissoko on Feb. 1, 2020.

Three days later, after Cruz reported his car stolen, Mitchell Police discussed the matter with Sissoko, who then gave the key to the Rav4 to Mitchell Police to be impounded. Sissoko was not placed under arrest or confined for taking the vehicle.

Lange wrote that Davison County's involvement in the car's registration was limited to a brief conversation with Sissoko in late January 2020. Sissoko, who says he hails from Ivory Coast, had brought the lawsuit on his own without an attorney.

Upon the judgment in the case, it’s not clear what the current status of the Toyota is. Sissoko had named Cruz as a defendant in the case, as well, but the federal case file is now terminated.

Lange wrote that the government bodies did not violate a clearly established constitutional right of Sissoko and he doesn’t have a claim for damages, adding that the government agencies were also sheltered by the qualified immunity doctrine, because their "conduct didn't violate a clearly established statutory right of which a reasonable person would have known."

Related Topics: CRIME AND COURTSCRIME
Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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