Former sheriff fighting DWI car seizure

SANTA FE (KRQE) – It was a little after 9 on a Monday night when Santa Fe Police got the call.

Sylvia Solano, 21, had just driven a white BMW convertible into a brick wall in a sleepy south side neighborhood.

Solano was taken to jail, arrested after blowing a .24 on a breathalyzer. The BMW was taken to the city impound lot.

Because it was Sylvia Solano’s second DWI, the city kept the wrecked car under the city’s DWI forfeiture law and moved to seize and sell it.

But the car isn’t Sylvia’s. It’s her dad Greg Solano’s car.

“On this night I hadn’t loaned it to her,” said Greg Solano. “I didn’t know she was taking it.”

Greg Solano was Santa Fe County sheriff for eight years, resigning in 2010 after he was caught stealing and selling department equipment on eBay.

It’s ironic he would have his car seized because as sheriff, Solano pushed for the county to get a DWI forfeiture ordinance of its own.

Because Solano says he didn’t give his daughter the keys nor know she was even drinking, he appealed to the city to be considered an innocent owner and get his car back.

The hearing officer denied him.

“Because I knew that she had a prior DWI [they said] they could take the car,” Solano said.

Under city rules, that administrative hearing officer only determines whether there was enough probable cause to make the DWI arrest. A car owner can claim to be an “innocent owner”, but are only considered as such if they didn’t know about the driver’s DWI past. Any other claims of being an innocent owner can only be determined in court.

Solano says the whole process felt “boilerplate” and that the outcome was predetermined. He’s now changed his tune on DWI vehicle seizure laws.

“This has changed my perspective on it a lot,” Solano said. “Not just because my car was taken but because the whole process just seemed so stacked against you and seemed so unfair.”

Solano says while he doesn’t regret that law’s effect keeping some drunk drivers off the road, he now believes a lot of innocent people are losing their cars because of the law.

So he’s enlisted the help of lawyer Diego Esquibel and is now fighting the forfeiture of his BMW in court. In filings with the court, Esquibel makes the claim the city’s ordinance is unconstitutional because it doesn’t give car owners due process, among other reasons.

Esquibel says as is, it’s simply unfair.

“You shouldn’t be expected to know five moves ahead, what’s going to happen with people,” Esquibel said.

The City of Santa Fe isn’t backing down. Assistant city attorney Alfred Walker tells KRQE News 13 he’s fully confident the city’s ordinance is constitutional and will hold up in court.

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