From Auction Block to Handcuffs: Why Did a Legal Car Auction Put a Couple in Jail?
How did a public auction for a car land the bidders in jail?
"You had the same police department arresting you on questionable charges, and then another officer from that same police department soliciting a bribe from you on recording?" 11Alive's Brendan Keefe asked.
"Yeah," replied Michelle Pierce.
A couple bought a car and ended up in handcuffs -- but before long, a police officer would be wearing them. 11Alive Chief Investigator Brendan Keefe has been on this story every step of the way for nearly two years.
This story started out as what we thought was a simple consumer affairs issue over the title and ownership of an automobile before it began to take a number of twists and turns.
The confrontation with the impound lot manager
"No, sir!" An auto impound lot manager tried to block Keefe from getting pictures of an impounded car. The catch? Keefe was standing on a public sidewalk -- where he had every right to be.
"Call the police, then," Keefe said.
"Get your *** out of my property," the impound lot manager yelled at Keefe, while moving around in an attempt to block his view of the impound yard.
"Sir, I'm on public property," Keefe said.
"Not shooting that way," the impound lot manager yelled at Keefe. "Turn around!"
"No," Keefe said.
"Turn around!" he yelled again, louder.
The car was indeed on his property, but Keefe was on a public sidewalk, where he has every right to be.
"Stop taking pictures until the police get here!" the manager said.
"Sir, I do not have to take your unlawful orders," Keefe said.
Meet Michael and Michelle Pierce
What was so special about this particular Toyota? It had been impounded by Clayton County Police from Michael and Michelle Pierce.
The couple runs a thrift shop, and they routinely buy the contents of unpaid storage units. Their $1,700 bid won an auction for the Toyota.
"And then we found out it was stolen," Michelle Pierce told Keefe.
When they discovered the car was stolen, they telephoned 911 and immediately turned the Toyota over to Clayton County Police. But when Michael and Michelle discovered no one had a claim on the car, they went back to the Clayton County Police Department and got a signed release from the Police Department impound.
"Part of the procedure was to run the history of the vehicle," Michelle Pierce said. "And it was clean and clear -- of course, that's why Clayton County released it to us."
Then, they got a call from Clayton County Police Detective Randy Brashears. He had placed the car back on the stolen list and demanded it back.
"They called and said they made a mistake by releasing it to me, and they was going to lock me up if I did not give it back," Michelle said.
An army of cops showed up at the couple's thrift shop.
"We even got it tagged and title bonded and everything," Michael said.
Police officers took the car away on a roll-back truck.
That was in July, 2015, when they initially called the 11Alive Investigators.
We sent an email to Detective Brashears
"It is not clear what crime Michelle Pierce would have violated or why the threat of arrest was necessary...for what would appear to be your department's mistake..."
Days later, Brashears went back to the Pierces' shop with more officers and arrested the couple.
"What did I do?" Michael Pierce could be heard asking on surveillance video as he was being taken into custody.
"They came in here and snatched me up like I had killed somebody, and then turned and locked my wife up, and never told us why they were doing it." Reflecting back later, Michael Pierce was incredulous. "They just did it."
"Why am I under arrest?" he asked the arresting officers at the time. "I haven't done anything."
"That had to be the worst moment of -- of our life," he said later.
"It was just a nightmare from there on," Michelle said. "I'm sitting there, pleading with the detective, and I'm telling him, 'I'll get Brendan not to air the interview where we're asking for the money back.'"
The couple was jailed for auto theft -- and Michelle was also charged with felony forgery.
"Trying to tell people, 'Hey, I'm in here, and I didn't do nothing wrong,' you feel stupid. So you finally just shut your mouth and sit there," she said. "When we went to see the judge, they shackled us like we were criminals."
The meeting in the Walmart parking lot
When they made bail, another Clayton County Police Officer met the couple in a Walmart parking lot.
"You've got blue collar crime, and then you've got straight up, like murder, rape -- we can't help you with them kind of charges," said the Clayton County officer.
"Exactly," Michael Pierce said.
"This? Make it go away," the officer said.
He said that he had people.
"On the inside," said Michelle Pierce, reflecting back later.
Who would get rid of these charges?
"Yes," she said. "And he said he's done it before."
The couple secretly made an audio recording of their meeting with Clayton County Police Officer Grant Kidd.
"So here's the charge, 750 for each of you that bonded out -- 750," Kidd said. "And you pay a thousand up front then, and the rest you pay after it goes away."
Keefe wanted to make sure he understood what he was hearing from this recording.
"This police officer was telling you, if you paid him $1,500, the charges would disappear?" he asked.
"Yes," Michelle replied.
"If it don't go away, if it go out to the grand jury, and then you get your money back," Kidd said on the recording.
When they heard about this, the Clayton County Police Department immediately fired Kidd -- and then the FBI arrested him for soliciting a bribe.
The Clayton County District Attorney dismissed the case against Michael and Michelle Pierce, saying the car was "legally purchased at auction" -- and -- "there is no evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant sought to defraud anyone."
So, at the end of all of this, the D.A. found that no crime had been committed by the Pierces.
"Well, I mean a 2-year-old could see that," Michelle said.
Confronting Detective Brashears
Detective Randy Brashears is still on the job with the Clayton County Police Department.
Michelle Pierce says she still wants to see Brashears held accountable for his role in this.
"I want him held accountable. I don't care if he gets a slap on the wrist," she said. "But he done wrong, and if he done it to us, and he's not held accountable, he can do it again."
Detective Brashears did not respond to a request for an interview, so Keefe caught up with him outside Clayton County Police Headquarters.
"Detective, can you tell us why you arrested the Pierces when even the DA says you didn't have a case?" Keefe asked.
After a moment, Brashears put a hand up and said, "Sir, you've been told by our attorney that we have not statement for you."
"We went to jail," Michael Pierce said while talking to Keefe in a studio. "We were punished for doing the right thing."
"You have nothing to say to the Pierces after denying them their freedom?" Keefe asked Brashears as he continued to walk across the parking lot.
"I know God and karma will get him, and he just does not need to be in that position to do it to anybody else," Michelle Pierce, also in the studio, said.
"Did you arrest them because they called us?" Keefe asked Brashears. "Was it revenge?"
"Yeah, this is too easy," Michael Pierce told Keefe sarcastically, rolling his eyes. "We get a 'stolen' car -- this is too easy, let's turn it in and try to steal it back from the police."
Brashears walked away from Keefe, down a ramp into the police station. Keefe called after him.
"Do car thieves, in your experience, usually call police?"
The door closed behind him.
Detective Randy Brashears is still employed by the Clayton County Police Department, and has not been charged with any crime.
The Pierces sued Brashears and the Clayton County Police Department. That case was thrown out because the police have immunity.
While the couple is preparing their appeal to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, former Clayton County officer Grant Kidd has pleaded not guilty to a federal indictment for extortion under color of official right.
As for the Toyota that started all of this? Ultimately, it was auctioned off again to someone else by the impound lot. The Pierces ultimately recovered their money from Public Storage, but they say they have spent about $20,000 in legal fees and other expenses -- with nothing to show for it.
Editor's note: This story was originally published in Feb. 2017.
► Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the WFMY News 2 App no