A private company hired by several South Florida municipalities to operate red-light traffic cameras and fine drivers is now facing a million-dollar lawsuit in federal court, according to Estrella Ticket Defense, the law firm representing the plaintiffs.
American Traffic Solutions (ATS), headquartered in Arizona, was sued on Wednesday by a group of five residents. The residents demand $5 million in reparations.
“We want the money that was taken from American citizens, victims of ATS to be returned,” said Rafael Millares, Estrella Ticket Defense attorney, during a news conference at their Miami office.
“We’ve estimated more than a million cases involving people in our community who have been affected by these fines.”
In an email sent to el Nuevo Herald, ATS representative Charles Territo said that all of the company’s programs operate in strict compliance with security laws and regulations. ATS was hired four years ago by several South Florida municipalities to fine traffic offenders who violated red lights.
Millares said that a few weeks ago, an appeals court in Broward County declared fines imposed by businesses like ATS’ unconstitutional.
“These fines are illegal and have taken money from citizens in an illegal way,” he said in the news conference.
“The court has found that the company [ATS] took video and photos but filtered the information themselves and chose which ones to give to the police, so in a sense they acted as an extension of the police department who took it upon itself to decide who to fine and who not to fine … that’s illegal and unconstitutional.”
To this ATS responded that the law firm doesn’t have the authority to decide if a violation on their behalf took place or not. “That decision belongs solely to authorities,” Territo said.
After the conference, several drivers affected by the fines gathered at the Estrella Ticket Defense office and spoke out.
“What I find to be indignant is that authorities didn’t ask me what happened,” said Pedro Luis Soler, a driver who received a $158 fine in 2012 when he passed a red light on Flagler Street and LeJeune Road. “The camera photographed my license plate along with the license plates of other cars as we drove in the same direction at the same time.”
“If I would’ve suddenly pressed the brake I could have caused a crash but a police officer never reviewed my case and I was never given the opportunity to explain my situation, instead I was simply slapped with a fine and that’s it,” he said.
In 2012, Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez canceled the city’s contract with ATS implemented by former Mayor Julio Robaina.
Arnie Alonso, Hernandez’s chief of staff, said that although the cameras were originally put in place to reduce traffic accidents once established they were merely a way of taking money from citizens.
“The mayor has always opposed cameras that fine drivers and he continues to do so,” Alonso said. “He [Hernandez] thinks that these cameras have always been used as taxation tools and as a new way for municipal governments to find a new source of income in these hard times.”
Alonso concluded that if the objective is really the reduction of traffic accidents, what needs to be regulated are red and yellow traffic lights.
By Friday, the Estrella Ticket Defense law firm will establish another lawsuit against Xerox State & Local Solutions, which took ownership of ACS State & Local Solutions and operates in the city of Miami Beach, Millares said.
Follow Enrique Flor on Twitter @kikeflor