This Is Not the USA

He thought he was just doing his job and playing by the rules. Then he learned that the rules are very different in the sovereign nation of the Miccosukee.

Turning west off of Krome Avenue onto the Tamiami Trail, 32-year-old repo man William Negron began the eighteen-mile trek to the Miccosukee Indian reservation and what he hoped would be an easy automobile repossession. Riding with him in his customized tow truck was Dinavon Bythwood, a private investigator hired by Negron to help track down people who were delinquent in their car payments. On this Thursday morning, November 3, the two men were after a silver 1990 Infiniti whose owner, Teresa Osceola, was nearly four months behind in her payments to a Miami auto dealer. Their bounty if successful: $500.

Negron had been in the repo business for six years, and this was the third time he had ventured out to the reservation. On the first occasion, back in 1992, he had towed the car back to Miami before the owner even knew it was missing. During the second trip, a few months later, he was nearly halfway home, a Mustang in tow, when he was chased down by a Miccosukee tribal police officer and ordered to return the car to the reservation. Officer P.K. O'Neill told Negron that in the future, he must check in with the tribal police department before attempting a repossession.

The memory of that last visit was on Negron's mind as he pulled into the tribal police department's parking lot a little after 7:00 a.m. Inside he met his old friend Lieutenant O'Neill, who announced that Negron would be allowed to take the Infiniti only if Osceola agreed to relinquish it. The officer said he'd call her and ask.

Negron wasn't pleased to hear this. The idea of O'Neill getting in the middle of his business left him feeling uncomfortable. Over the years, he had dealt with police officers all across Dade and Broward counties, and typically their only concern was the possibility of a violent confrontation while a car was being repossessed. They didn't assume the role of judges, they didn't place restrictions on his ability to do his job, and they certainly didn't call cars' owners and warn them that the repo man was on his way.

O'Neill returned a few minutes later and informed Negron that Teresa Osceola didn't want to give them the car. According to Negron and Bythwood, O'Neill offered a compromise: Osceola had agreed to drive to the dealer that day and make a payment on the car. Negron and Bythwood could call her and make arrangements to follow her into town so they would get credit for their efforts. However, he warned the men not to try to take Osceola's car and not to set foot on her property.

Lieutenant O'Neill then followed Negron and Bythwood outside and again repeated his warning. They said they understood, climbed back into the tow truck, and drove a mile down the road to the Osceolas' house, where they could see the Infiniti parked nearby. Negron made a U-turn and parked across the street. From his truck Negron called the Osceolas on his cellular phone and told Teresa Osceola's husband, Sandy, that he was waiting outside. According to Negron, Sandy Osceola appeared at his front door and waved for Negron to drive up to the house, which sits about 25 feet from the roadway. But in deference to O'Neill's admonition, Negron declined and instead motioned for Sandy Osceola to walk to the truck. As Osceola approached, Negron made another U-turn and parked on the grassy swale between the road and the sidewalk in front of Osceola's house.

When he reached the truck, Osceola told Negron and Bythwood that his wife had already left for work and that he didn't know anything about arrangements she might be making to drive into the city, but he said he'd call her at work and find out. Osceola returned to his house, and Negron began feeling uneasy. None of this made sense. Lieutenant O'Neill had just spoken to Teresa, and her car was still at the house.

Negron picked up his cell phone, called the police station, and asked for O'Neill, but apparently the lieutenant was in a meeting and couldn't be disturbed. While Negron quietly fretted, Bythwood used the time to take a short nap, having been up since 3:00 a.m. tracking down a couple of cars in Homestead.

As Bythwood slept, Negron began reading a newspaper, but just a few minutes later he noticed a police car pulling up behind him, its emergency lights flashing. O'Neill was behind the wheel and Sgt. Woodward Brooks was accompanying him. The two officers stepped out of their car and Negron got out of his truck to talk with them. There wouldn't be much conversation, though.

"I said, 'Lieutenant, what's up?'" Negron recalls. "And he said, 'Your ass is under arrest.' And as he walked past me he told Brooks, 'Place him under arrest.'" While Brooks handcuffed Negron, O'Neill continued toward the truck. Bythwood, who by now was wide awake, recounts, "I kept thinking to myself that this whole thing was a setup."

The lieutenant began searching the cab of the truck and found Negron's .357 magnum pistol. According to Bythwood, O'Neill then asked, "Didn't I tell you not to come down here?"

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