POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — A husband-and-wife team that owns and operates a towing company in Mulberry has been charged with illegally towing vehicles from a mobile home park, authorities said.
Michael and Elissa Deen, the owners of Strapped Towing, were hit with multiple felony charges after illegally towing vehicles out of Stoll Manor mobile home park, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
The charges come just months after Michael Denn was arrested for shooting and killing a customer during an argument over an impounded vehicle. The customer, Juan Barroso-Muriel, had gone to the business to retrieve his brother-in-law’s car after it was towed out of Stoll Manor, authorities said.
Deputies said Barroso-Muriel got into an argument with Denn’s brother, Marshall, when he was told to wait outside the business for the vehicle after he had paid the bill. Deputies said Barroso-Muriel took possession of the vehicle and that Marshall Denn had punched him through the driver’s side window.
After driving a short distance down the road, Barroso-Muriel turned around and drove at Marshall and Michael Denn and hit Marshall with the front of his car.
Deputies said Michael Denn drew his gun and opened fire, hitting Barroso-Muriel on the side of his head.
“As he’s walking clearly with nothing in his hands, posing no immediate threat, that’s not ‘stand your ground,'” said Sheriff Grady Judd.
Michael Denn was arrested for second-degree murder.
His attorneys say they have surveillance video that shows Denn acted in self-defense.
Sheriff Judd told reporters Thursday he has seen the video. It has not yet been made public.
“[The sheriff] had to have seen that his investigation was faulty. He had to have seen that he should have never arrested Mr. Denn. He had to have seen they should have never pressed charges against him,” said Dino Michaels, one of Denn’s attorneys.
The sheriff said the video is part of its own criminal investigation.
“When we were doing our investigation and served our search warrant that night, that video that has mysteriously appeared wasn’t there,” he said.
“Have at it. Have at it. That thing was not criminally removed, 100%,” said Michaels in response.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office said it received several complaints about Denn’s company towing vehicles in Stoll Manor at night, while management was not there.
8 On Your Side spoke to residents who were angered over the ordeal and said the towing company used aggressive tactics.
The sheriff’s office said an agreement between the company and management states vehicles should be towed if they are blocking exits, parked in 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 stickered with a violation instead of being towed.
According to deputies, video showed Barroso-Muriel, his brother-in-law, and his brother-in-law’s wife begging Denn to allow them to keep the vehicle at the park before the incident at Denn’s business. The vehicle was parked partially under a carport, but was not on the grass, on the street, or blocking an exit, and Barroso-Muriel’s brother-in-law had the vehicle’s tag in his possession.
Florida law states that when a vehicle is being towed, “if a person seeks the return of the vehicle, the tow must be stopped. The vehicle must be returned upon payment of a reasonable fee of not more than one-half of the posted rate. The vehicle can only be towed after the owner or legally authorized person in control of the vehicle is offered a reasonable opportunity to pay and they are unable to pay.”
Denn still towed the vehicle.
“Had he followed the law and given them the opportunity to pay half the fee that night, that murder the next day never would have occurred,” said Sheriff Judd.
Deputies said the company impounded 19 vehicles from the mobile home park and made the car owners go to their business, which is about 20 miles away, and pay cash to recover their vehicles.
According to Florida law, towed vehicles should be stored within a 10-mile radius from the point of removal in counties with a population of more than 500,000 people.
Denn’s attorneys argue the new charges are a response to the newly discovered surveillance video that, they say, exonerates their client.
“This stinks because there’s something smelly about it. Why does the sheriff’s office arrest somebody almost three months after they discovered all the facts?” said Michaels. “Sounds like retaliation to me. Smells like it, it looks like it, it quacks like it, it’s retaliation.”
Denn has remained at the Polk County jail since his arrest in May for shooting and killing Barroso-Muriel. He has since been charged with 19 counts storing vehicles outside a 10-mile radius, one count of failure to have address properly marked on a tow vehicle, one count of failure to stop tow at owner’s request.
His wife Elissa was charged with two counts of failure to have address properly marked on private property tow vehicle, a felony and 19 counts of storing vehicles outside of a 10-mile radius from removal location, also a felony.
She is being held at the Polk County Jail.