POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A husband and wife team that owns and operates a towing business in Mulberry has been charged with illegally towing vehicles from a mobile home park, authorities have said.
Michael and Elissa Deen, owners of Strapped Towing, have been charged with several misdemeanors after illegally towing vehicles out of the Stoll Manor mobile home park, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
The charges come just months after Michael Denn’s arrest for shooting and killing a customer during an argument over an impounded vehicle. The customer, Juan Barroso-Muriel, had traveled to the company to collect his brother-in-law’s car after it was towed out of Stoll Manor, authorities said.
MPs said Barroso-Muriel had an argument with Denn’s brother Marshall when he was told to wait for the vehicle outside the company after paying the bill. MPs said Barroso-Muriel took possession of the vehicle and Marshall Denn hit him through the driver’s side window.
After driving a short distance on the road, Barroso-Muriel turned around and ran into Marshall and Michael Denn and hit Marshall with the front of his car.
MPs said Michael Denn drew his gun and opened fire, hitting Barroso-Muriel on the side of the head.
“Since he’s clearly walking with nothing in his hands, posing no immediate threat, it’s not ‘holding on’,” Sheriff Grady Judd said.
Michael Denn has been arrested for second degree murder.
His attorneys say they have surveillance footage showing Denn acted in self-defense.
Sheriff Judd told reporters on Thursday he saw the video. It has not yet been made public.
“[The sheriff] must have seen that his investigation was wrong. He must have seen that he should never have arrested Mr. Denn. He must have seen that they should never have brought a complaint against him, ”said Dino Michaels, one of Denn’s attorneys.
The sheriff said the video was part of his own criminal investigation.
“When we were conducting our investigation and serving our search warrant that night, that video that mysteriously emerged was not there,” he said.
” Wait. Have at it. This thing has not been criminally removed, 100%, ”Michaels said in response.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office said it received several complaints about the towing of Denn Company vehicles to Stoll Manor at night when management was not there.
8 On Your Side spoke to residents who were angry with the ordeal and said the towing company used aggressive tactics.
The sheriff’s office said an agreement between the company and management states that vehicles must be towed if they block exits, parked in the grass or on the street, but other vehicles, such as immobilized vehicles, vehicles with flat tires and jack stands or vehicles without plates, should be sticker with a violation instead of being towed.
According to lawmakers, the video showed Barroso-Muriel, his brother-in-law and his brother-in-law’s wife begging Denn to allow them to keep the vehicle in the park before the incident at Denn’s business. The vehicle was partially parked under a carport, but was not on the grass, in the street, or blocking an exit, and Barroso-Muriel’s brother-in-law had the vehicle tag in his possession.
Florida law states that when a vehicle is towed, “if a person requests the return of the vehicle, the towing must be stopped.” The vehicle must be returned upon payment of a reasonable amount not exceeding half of the posted price. The vehicle may only be towed after the owner or the legally authorized person in control of the vehicle has been given a reasonable opportunity to pay and is unable to pay.
Denn has always towed the vehicle.
“If he had followed the law and given them the option of paying half the fee that night, this murder would never have happened the next day,” Sheriff Judd said.
MPs said the company impounded 19 vehicles from the mobile home park and forced car owners to come to their business, which is about 20 miles away, and pay cash to collect their vehicles.
By Florida law, towed vehicles must be stored within 10 miles of the pickup point in counties over 500,000 residents.
Denn’s attorneys argue that the new charges are a response to the newly discovered surveillance video they claim exonerates their client.
“It stinks because there is something that smells bad. Why is the sheriff’s office arresting someone almost three months after finding out all the facts? Michaels said. “It sounds like retaliation to me. It smells like that, it looks like it, it quacks like that, it’s retaliation.
Denn has remained in Polk County Jail since his arrest in May for shooting and killing Barroso-Muriel. He has since been charged with 19 counts of storing vehicles outside a 10 mile radius, failing to have correctly marked the address on a tow vehicle, one count of not stopping towing at the owner’s request.
His wife Elissa was charged with two counts of failing to correctly mark the address on the tow vehicle of private property, a felony and 19 counts of storing vehicles outside a 10 mile radius of moving location, also felony.
She is being held at Polk County Jail.