Booting incidents lead to concern over gun use

This parking lot in Buckhead is where a reported shooting happened between a booting company employee and the driver of a booted car.  No arrests have been made in the incident. (Photo: Channel 2 Action News)

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This parking lot in Buckhead is where a reported shooting happened between a booting company employee and the driver of a booted car.  No arrests have been made in the incident. (Photo: Channel 2 Action News)

In 2017, a man apparently had a gun pointed at him by a worker from same company linked to shooting last week

A shiver ran down 38-year-old Rodney Wood’s spine when he heard the news that an Atlanta man had reportedly been shot Thursday in a dispute with a booting company employee.

More than a year ago, in the same parking lot, in a dispute with the same company, he said, it was almost him on the other end of a bullet.

“When I saw it again, I couldn’t believe it,” Wood said.

Last Thursday, Matt Stevens, 27, was shot in the thigh after confronting a man who he said had booted his car outside of a Buckhead bar on the 3000 block of Roswell Road.

Stevens told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he and a friend were returning early Thursday morning from a late night out in Buckhead when they discovered Stevens’ car had been booted.

Stevens said he called the number for the booting service twice and waited in the cold more than half an hour before the booting employee arrived.

When the booting company worker arrived, the two got into an argument, before Stevens threw the money for the booting fee on the ground.

Stevens claims the man retrieved a gun from his car and pointed it at his face.

“I put my hands up and said, ‘Chill, chill, chill,’ ” he said. Stevens said he was not aware he had been shot until he started limping and saw the wound to his thigh.

After some negotiations, the employee removed two boots from Steven’s car, so he could drive himself to the hospital.

“We’ve got several incidents where booting companies are showing guns and one instance of a man being shot,” said Stevens’ attorney Matt Wetherington, who has been working to overturn booting ordinances in Atlanta and litigate or legislate the practice out of existence statewide. “This is an ongoing problem. How soon is it before someone is killed?”

Police have not made any arrests in the shooting incident.

The booting worker’s employer, Empire Parking Services, did not respond to a call on Sunday for comment about the incidents, but issued a statement to Channel 2 Action News in the wake of last week's reported shooting, saying the company was cooperating with police” and they “expect our company and our employee will be fully exonerated.

Wood’s story, aside from having a gun pulled on him, reflects the kind of experience some people say they have in dealing with booting companies. He was in a bar at about midnight on Feb. 22, 2017.

A friend was supposed to meet him there. When she arrived at the parking lot, the machine would not accept her credit card, so she walked into the bar to get cash from Wood.

It was roughly five minutes between the time she got the cash from Wood and returned to find her car booted by someone from Empire.

“When we got out there, the guy was already putting the boot on the car,” Wood said. “I was trying to be a white knight and told him to give her a break and that he was being predatory. He got a little blustery. I got a little blustery.”

Wood said he tried to stand between the booting company employee and his friend, when the attendant backed his truck into him.

“I said, ‘You hit me. I want to know your name,’ ” Wood recounted. “That is when he pulled a gun out and pointed it at me.”

Wood pulled out his weapon – his cellphone and recorded the altercation. The worker threatened to shoot Wood and Wood dared him, before the booting employee sped off.

When the police arrived and watched the video, they had Wood call the man and pose as another customer who had been booted. When the booting employee showed back up, he was arrested. According to the Fulton County courts website, he pleaded to a misdemeanor, pointing a gun at a person.

Aside from the police and in court, Wood had never shown anyone the video, until he forwarded it to Wetherington.

“We don’t want someone to be killed over a $3 parking fee,” Wetherington said.

Booting already is illegal in several Georgia counties, including Cobb, Gwinnett, Clayton and Cherokee. In its ordinance forbidding the practice, Cobb County declared booting "not in the best interests of the county."

Other areas, including Atlanta and Decatur, allow booting but regulate it, placing limits — typically $75 — on how much companies can charge to have them removed.

In areas of the state where the practice is neither outlawed or regulated, booting companies make the rules and fees can range into the hundreds of dollars.

The incident is not the first time guns have been drawn in Atlanta over the controversial practice of immobilizing vehicles over parking fees.

Last December, two customers of a Buckhead hookah lounge got into an argument with a parking lot attendant over being booted. One of the men took a pistol from the waistband of the attendant and then fired a different gun in the air.

Earlier this year, the Atlanta City Council debated a proposed ordinance banning booting within the city limits, but that measure never went forward.

On Tuesday, the Atlanta City Council Public Safety Committee will meet and among the agenda items is a long-delayed measure changing to how booting is regulated in the city. The proposed legislation keeps it legal, but tightens up the city's rules.

Reporter Chris Joyner contributed to this article.