SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council on Monday unanimously upheld the suspension of Yaz Towing’s license to operate. The company has also been removed from the city’s list of towing companies.
After an initial, five-hour hearing in early January, City Clerk Emily Carrington determined it would be appropriate to remove Yaz Towing from the city’s tow list until Dec. 6, and to suspend its license to handle private tows through June 30.
The owner of Yaz Towing, Payam Yazdanpanah, appealed her ruling to the council, which heard arguments March 21.
In upholding Carrington’s action, councilors said Yazdanpanah exceeded the boundaries of proper behavior in seeking payment for towing services from Sierra-lynn Frost, who initially called him for a private tow on Dec. 11, 2015.
The basic facts of the case are not in dispute, but what Yazdanpanah’s attorney, Peter Evans, argued Monday is that the city failed to follow due process and that Carrington’s actions were excessive, since they will deprive Yazdanpanah of about 60 percent of his business for half a year.
Carrington held the license hearing at the request of the Police Department, which charged Yazdanpanah with theft by extortion and criminal threatening in relation to the December incident. Those have been temporarily suspended.
According to city documents and written testimony, Frost, who works at the IHOP restaurant in Auburn, called her insurance company seeking a tow back to her home in South Portland. Her insurance company, Allstate, dispatched Yaz Towing.
When Yazdanpanah arrived on scene, he told Frost there would be an extra $200 charge for the additional labor required to move her car from what he described on his bill as a ditch.
According to the documents and testimony, after some discussion, which included Yazdanpanah speaking with a representative of Allstate, it was clear that the insurance company would not cover that extra cost. Frost claimed Yazdanpanah demanded that she sign a statement saying she would pay the extra fee the next day, or he would not tow her car.
Frost, who was being pressured by a manager at the restaurant to have her car removed from the parking lot, signed the statement. But she did not pay Yazdanpanah on either Dec. 12 or Dec. 13.
Frost and her parents, Sharity Medrano and Scott Frost, claim Yazdanpanah then began harassing Frost and then her parents for immediate payment.
In her statement to South Portland police, Frost said Yazdanpanah left her several phone messages, called her at work several times and then finally showed up at the restaurant looking for her. In the meantime, he had also called her parents, and made threatening statements.
After Yazdanpanah showed up at the IHOP and spent about 45 minutes in and around the restaurant on Dec. 13, Frost finally sent her boyfriend out to the parking lot to pay him the $200.
Yazdanpanah subsequently returned the money, according to information Evans provided to the council Monday.
Both sides admit that tensions were running high and that ugly words were exchanged. Frost claimed she was “very scared” of Yazdanpanah and what he might do.
Afterward, based on the complaints filed by Frost and her mother, South Portland police served Yazdanpanah with cease-harassment notices. Those notices do not have the effect of a court order, Police Chief Ed Googins told the council, but they do put the person on notice that any further complaints could lead to criminal charges.
On Dec. 15, Googins sent a request to Carrington asking her to hold a hearing on whether Yazdanpanah should continue to hold a towing license from the city because his actions “raised concerns about Mr. Yazdanpanah and the risk he poses to the public safety.”
Googins said, based on the complaints made, he wanted a hearing to be held to determine “what, if any, sanctions may be appropriate as a result of this incident.”
In defending Yazdanpanah, Evans said there were technical errors in the Notice of Hearing initially sent to his client, including no mention that Carrington would be judging the case based on two sections of the city’s ordinances, instead of just the one mentioned in the notice.
In addition, Evans said, “it was very clear at the time that the $200 charge would not be covered by insurance. It was clear at the time of the tow, when Sierra-lynn Frost signed the document, that she knew the cost would not be covered.”
He also said the license suspension and removal from the city’s tow list would cost Yazdanpanah “an awful lot of lost business,” and he called Carrington’s actions an “excessive penalty.”
Evans also said he felt his client faced a “stacked deck” at the initial hearing. He said his client, who was “justifiably angry” at not being paid, faced some level of aggression from Frost’s side, as well.
In defending Carrington’s actions Monday, City Attorney Sally Daggett said the question before the council was not the extra $200 fee, and whether it was justified, but whether Yazdanpanah’s “behavior in trying to collect it was appropriate.”
She also noted the criminal charges the police brought against Yazdanpanah, and said “the penalty imposed was appropriate given the serious nature of the charges. There are no grounds to modify the clerk’s decision.”
The council agreed and several councilors, including Councilor Claude Morgan, said Yazdanpanah’s lack of remorse and “lack of contrition” was equally as troubling as his behavior.
Morgan added that being licensed by the city makes Yazdanpanah, in a sense, a representative of South Portland, and as such the “standards (for behavior) have to be high.”
Councilor Linda Cohen noted that holding a towing license is not “a right but a privilege” and said, “we don’t want people out there chasing down people for money. The suspension is appropriate.”
Mayor Tom Blake said, “There’s no question this was improper behavior. This was indeed inappropriate conduct and we can’t tolerate this level of intimidation.”