Erika Rivota has been hearing complaints for Hispanic customers issued tickets from Clarksville police for no proof of insurance despite their having valid policies she secured. And she said it's creating a prickly situation for her business.
"People think I'm selling them policies that are fraudulent and taking their money," she said. "But I found them companies that accept foreign driver's licenses. Those policies are valid."
Rivota's clients who were ticketed, she admits, are in America illegally, but because they have Mexican driver's licenses some American companies accept those and issue auto insurance coverage. So she wonders why police continue ticketing them.
The drivers were also cited, in these cases, with no driver's license. Rivota does not have an issue with that, saying because these people are residents of Arkansas they should have an Arkansas driver's license. Bona fide tourists' foreign driver's licenses can be excepted based on the Department of Motor Vehicle guidelines issued by the Department of Finance and Administration's Driver Control Services office.
However, the fact that they do not have a valid Arkansas driver's license, Rivota said, doesn't affect their valid policies.
She offered a letter submitted by Imperial Fire & Casualty which reads, "Imperial Fire & Casualty Insurance Company knowingly writes automobile insurance policies in the State of Arkansas for individuals who have an international driver's license. Coverage is never considered void based on the sole principal that an operator of a covered vehicle has an international driver's license."
The letter is signed by Sr. Vice President of Claims, Phyllis S. Cooper.
Police Chief Greg Donaldson was not in the office Friday afternoon, but told us by phone there were suspicions Rivota's clientele were carrying fraudulent IDs, which he said rendered the insurance invalid. But he's turned the matter over to the city attorney.
"I don't know if you have an old Mexican driver's license if it invalidates that insurance. I've called my city attorney to check on that.," he said.
According to the Arkansas Insurance Department, an invalid driver's license does not necessarily invalidate the policy. That would be up to a company to decide. There's also no statute on the books prohibiting an insurance policy from being issued to someone with a foreign driver's license, and a driver's license isn't required by law to purchase automobile insurance or register your vehicle.
"If one thing is done one way, it should be done that same way for everyone," Rivota said, pointing to another report.
While reviewing the citations alongside accident reports submitted by her clients, Rivota noticed something that disturbed her. On one accident report her customer had been in a collision with a non-Hispanic man who admitted to police he had no insurance.
"The police officer marked it on the police report, but no citation issued," she said, pointing to the collision report.
In another accident, Bernardo Garcia-Cruz was t-boned by an American driver.
"The Hispanic customer [Garcia] who provided insurance was issued a no insurance ticket on that," she said. "I really don't know if they aren't sure of what the law is or if they are really profiling them."
"There's nothing to do with racism or nationality," Donaldson siad. "Honestly, I don't care what color you are. If you're a good citizen, you're a good citizen. If you screw up, we're going to write you a ticket and move on. We are not going to target anyone unreasonably. The appearance or thought we would do anything like that is totally ridiculous."
"You can make something out of nothing if you try to do so and that's what is being done here," he said. "The fact is we don't write everyone a ticket. It's just like a speeding ticket. Does every person who gets pulled over for speeding, get a ticket?"
"No, sir." our reporter responded.
"Well then what's the difference?" he said.
According to Donaldson there is no department-wide policy for issuing citations for lack of insurance.
"I don't second-guess my officers out here on the street about who they do write tickets to or don't write tickets to because they have to have that discretion to do their job," he said. "I can't require officers to write a ticket for everything, because that would be like a quota system and that's illegal, and we don't do that."
According to Chief Donaldson officers issue tickets at their discretion, but he says profiling is not part of the department's culture and is not allowed.
KARK requested to see citations issued from the past three months, to get a broader time perspective and a larger pool of citations to evaluate. However, because Donaldson was not in the office, we were told we could not have access to those records.