Pepperell man claims Chelmsford police violated civil rights in car seizure


BOSTON — A Pepperell man made a federal case over what he claimed were unfair storage fees for his car — and won.

In U.S. District Court in June, Timothy Denault, 33, of Pepperell, won a small financial victory against the town of Chelmsford after a federal jury awarded him $2,200 in compensatory damages after his 2000 Nissan Maxima was seized as evidence in an assault case,then racked up more than $4,000 as it sat in storage for about four months.

The jury also awarded Denault’s girlfriend, Jennifer Testa, $25 in compensatory damages. The jury declined to award any punitive damages.

Denault’s car has been returned to him without paying storage fees.

But that’s not the end of the storage wars.

On Nov. 24, Denault’s attorney Andrew Fisher appealed the verdict arguing that U.S. District Court Judge William G. Young erred by instructing the jury to decide this as a “tort” case rather than a civil rights case. As a civil rights case, Denault’s lawyers could seek attorney’s fees upwards of more than $75,000.

Denault could not be reached for comment. Fisher, who is handling the appeal, said that since he is new to the case he couldn’t comment on the allegations.

However, Fisher said he filed the appeal because “we see the verdict as undercutting Denault’s civil rights” to his car, which was returned to him without paying any storage fees.

The town, through town counsel, cross-appealed to overturn the verdict and argue that this was not a civil rights case so no attorney fees should be awarded.

Denault’s trial attorney, Valeriano Diviacchio, who has since retired, argued in the lawsuit between Oct. 21-23, 2013 the Chelmsford police were investigating a pending case against Denault that included searching his 2000 Nissan Maxima for evidence.

Around that time, Chelmsford police arrested Denault, then 30, for assault and battery and mayhem. He was accused of beating a man and biting a portion of the man’s ear off during a fight.

Denault, who has a three-page criminal record, was on probation at the time after serving a five-year prison stint for armed robbery. A judge held Denault on $10,000 cash bail.

On Oct. 23, 2013, went to the Lowell home of Denault’s girlfriend, Jennifer Testa, and saw the car parked in the driveway. They spoke to Testa about the car, telling her she was free to go but the car was being seized. Christopher’s Towing Service towed the vehicle to the Chelmsford Police Station where it was searched. No evidence was found.

On Feb. 21, 2014, Denault’s criminal case was closed, with prosecutors dropping one charge and his guilty plea on another. Afterward, Christopher’s Towing sent a notice to Denault’s family explaining the car was available for pick up once the fees had been paid.

For nearly four months, the Maxima sat in the Chelmsford storage yard of Christopher’s Towing without any maintenance, racking up a total of $4,797 in fees, far exceeding the car’s $1,000 value.

In Denault’s lawsuit, attorney Valeriano Diviacchi argued the Maxima should have been released and returned to Testa or Denault’s family, since Denault was in jail at the time.

Diviacchi argued that the Chelmsford police and Christopher’s Towing allegedly refused to release the vehicle claiming it was “evidence” and it would only be released when Denault’s family submitted to police questioning.

Town Counsel Jeremy Silverfine denies there was any coercion, saying the Chelmsford police released the vehicle and it was available for pick up at Christopher’s Towing storage yard on Riverneck Road in Chelmsford, but no one claimed it.

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