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CONTINUING COVERAGE: Booting shooting victim ‘thankful’ to be alive

An Atlanta man allegedly shot by a booting company employee said he is just happy to be alive.

“I’m definitely in pain, but I’m thankful,” said Matt Stevens, 27.

Stevens said 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 attendant arrived.

“At first I asked him why did you boot me, I’m the only car out here and I paid for parking,” Stevens said. Frustrated, Stevens said he threw the money for the booting fee on the ground.

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

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“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.

“When I said, ‘You shot me,’ he said, ‘No, I didn’t,’ ” Stevens said. But the man was already pointing the gun at his friend, he said.

Stevens said the booting company employee removed two boots from his car tires so he could go to the hospital. Stevens never spoke to police until they interviewed him at Grady Memorial Hospital, he said.

Stevens said doctors at Grady told him the bullet narrowly missed a major artery, which could have cost him his life.

Booting is outlawed in some Georgia counties and governed by ordinance in cities like Atlanta. In other areas, booting companies make the rules. A sign in the Newnan Crossing shopping center in Newnan, Ga., warns owners of “unauthorized vehicles” they are subject to booting. (AJC file photo)

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.

Stevens has hired Matt Wetherington, an Atlanta attorney who has been working to overturn booting ordinances in Atlanta and litigate or legislate the practice out of existence statewide.

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.

In February, a coalition of booting companies lobbied the Georgia Legislature to get booting declared legal across the state, but concerns voiced by several lawmakers stalled the bill in committee.

In a hearing before the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, state Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, said he personally had witnessed a parking lot attendant boot a vehicle and wait for its owner to return. Jasperse said he noticed the attendant was armed.

“I just watched this play out,” he said. “He was going to pay.”

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

Wetherington said a background check he conducted on the man Stevens said shot him revealed past convictions, which The Atlanta Journal-Constitution could not confirm independently. Atlanta police have made no arrests in the shooting. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contacted the man, who confirmed his identity, but he declined to comment on the incident or any past arrests.

The booting worker’s employer, Empire Parking Services, did not respond to a call for comment, but issued a statement to Channel 2 Action News saying the company was “cooperating with police” and they “expect our company and our employee will be fully exonerated.”

AJC reporter Steve Burns contributed to this article.

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