Government Watch South Dakota is a site managed by tax payers of South Dakota.  Our goal is to ensure the rights of our fellow citizens are exercised and upheld, most importantly, the freedom of speech when it concerns our government.  Because of this, we welcome citizens to share their story here in a day and age when censorship is at an all-time high.  We understand this story with 3J Towing is a hot and tense topic in the Belle Fourche community and we are actively working to hear as many sides to this story as possible so all can be equally heard.  Sheriff Lamphere responded to our email asking if he’d like to make a statement.  We also reached out to Plains Towing for a statement but they declined to do so.  Our hope is to bring all information out to the public and let the people make their decision about the situation after getting fully informed by hearing from the people directly involved, along with any research and South Dakota Codified Laws referenced so we can put this story, in its entirety, “on the scales” and see how it weighs according to State Laws.  We will continue to update this story as we receive more information.       

Read Part 1 & 2 here

                                                      Sheriff Lamphere’s Statement

I hope that this response is kept in its original context.

On 09-18-2023 a 42 year old female was arrested on a DUI charge by the Belle Fourche Police Department. 3-J Towing was called to tow the vehicle.

On 09-20-2023 the person went to retrieve her car. She was advised that she could not have the car because she did not have the proof of ownership. She then asked for some of her personal things from the car and was denied access to her personal property in the car. The Police Department was called by her to assist and was not able to help her because the Towing Company refused to let her have access.

On 09-22-2023 3-J Towing reported to the Police that the female and her boyfriend were making threats of violence to him.

On 09-26-2023 the Police Department advised Dispatch that they are no longer involved with the situation and anything else would have to be handled through the County. A Butte County Deputy attempted to assist and keep the peace. There was acknowledgement by 3-J that there was Bill of sale in the car stating that she had purchased the car in Missouri. She said she could get more information out of the car to prove ownership. 3-J Towing said because of the earlier threats, now she will not have access to car. At that time the Deputy advised her that she needed to get an Attorney to get her items or personal property car from 3-J Towing.

On 10-19-2023 the female returned for Court she attempted again with assistance of the Belle Fourche Police Department to retrieve her personal items from the car. She was again denied. On this same date I was advised of a disturbance in the Courthouse parking lot. I made contact with the female and her boyfriend. She was crying hysterically and was very upset about all of her items being withheld from her , she went on to say she had everything in that all of her work and personal computers, clothing and personal affects. I advised her that she needs to visit with her Attorney about possibly getting a Court Order to release her personal items from the car and she would at least have that . I also advised her that the car was probably close to being too encumbered by the Towing company and that State Law allows for them to get a title.

So she started the process.

On 10-20-2023 a Court Order was issued to 3-J Oil Medic & towing, its agents and employees that the personal property of the female be returned to immediately.

On 10-24-2023 Chief Deputy Jason March served the Court Order to the business address and spoke with an employee in person and the owner John Tracy by phone.  3-J Towing refused to cooperate .

On this same date the employee that was served came into the Sheriffs Office and advised me that he was a person that should not be served. I asked this person if he was an employee of 3-J Towing and he said yes.

He left the paperwork on the counter and left.

At this time I suspended 3-J Towing from the towing rotation for failure to comply with a Court Order. Law Enforcement has to have faith that companies that we work with will respect a Court Order.

Respectfully, Sheriff Fred Lamphere


                                   3J Towing’s Rebuttal to Sheriff Lamphere’s statement: 

Half of his ”facts” are incorrect. We advised her that the PD had her paperwork.  They (The BFPD) pointed out that anyone could download [a bill of sale] from Google and fill it out. She never once asked what the bill would be and when she threatened me in my office, Officers Brost and Huber told her she didn’t have what was needed to prove ownership and physically removed her.

When she got out she didn’t come to retrieve her car, she had her boyfriend call. He never asked a price or anything and legally we couldn’t give it to him anyway. The next day she called me saying that her paperwork was in the glove box. Officer Harter had told us that he had it and it was a handwritten bill of sale, nothing more, no title or anything else like she claims. To this day we haven’t opened the car for any reason and it belongs to us as of October 26th.
We talked to her long enough to receive death threats and she gave the phone to her boyfriend who told me he would bomb my business, kill me, and hunt down and kill my wife and kids. LeEllen (Butte County State’s Attorney) told Harter that she did not believe that it was credible so nothing was done.
We are unaware of the PD handing it off to the County, we were never told such a thing. Meanwhile, she was calling literally everybody, including the ministerial association and the state’s attorney office to attempt to force us to return the car and everything for free. Someone from the SA office called me and asked my side, to which I explained vividly including the threats and the SDCLs that backed our decisions. All was good other than she was calling anyone she could find including an ex classmate in Oklahoma whom hadn’t had any contact with her in more than 20 years.
Yes,  there was a keep the peace at my office. Officers Huber and Brost from the BFPD did this. They physically removed her from our office after she once again threatened to kill me as she was trying to climb over Officer Brost to do so. The officers stated that anyone could download the bill of sale from Google and hand write it and they did not find it credible either. They told her not to come back or contact us further. We have the paperwork from the DMV in Pierre showing that she is not the owner of the vehicle. If she doesn’t own the vehicle then she has no proof of ownership of the contents. Also, SDCL 32-30-18, 32-30-12, 32-30-13, 32-30-14, 32-30-15, as well as 32-30-19 and 32-36-4 support our actions and allow us up to a $500.00 possessory lien on the contents which the court order clearly violates. Also, the ONLY contents that we would ever have to release with the lien are clothing and food and does not attach to the tools and implements which a person uses and keeps for the purpose of carrying on his/her trade or business, subject to proof of occupation or clothing or food(see SDCL 32-30-18). We believe that this court order could open our business up to lawsuits via the actual registered owners. It is also unconstitutional overreach by government into a privately owned business. If able to provide proof of ownership, the driver would also be liable for all towing and storage fees.
Law enforcement officers are not attorneys, and they are not allowed to give legal advice such as what the Sheriff gave to the driver.
A court order was served by Deputy March to our employee on the 24th of October. I was out of state at a business meeting and dispatch knew this since we had towed a customer request from a deer collision that morning. When they asked me for an update for eta I told them that I was out of state and was not sure.
I told Deputy March that I was out of state and would not be able to carry out the order because of this. Our employee was very new and has no authority to carry out such orders without myself or my wife. Also, the key to the key box was with me which I told Deputy March via phone. Our employee did take the order to the Sheriff to which he was asked his name, nothing further. On this same day the Sheriff wrote a certified letter terminating our company from the towing rotation. We did not receive it until October 31st since we get no mail at our shop address.
We as tow companies need to have faith that law enforcement will stand behind us and the SDCLs that are there to protect us from unlawful orders. The Sheriff found us guilty until proven innocent. We provided the judge and opposing counsel a letter that would explain why we did what we did with SDCLs to support our decisions along with the actions of the Sheriff’s Department.
-3J Towing