In October 2005, Joanne Hatton spotted a woman rifling through her parents' mailbox across the street from her Miami Shores home. The mysterious five-foot-six-inch brunette, who wore business-casual slacks, snagged an envelope and headed for her black Ford SUV.
Hatton, an assertive 50-year-old green-eyed pharmaceutical consultant, grabbed a .38-caliber pistol and marched out the door.
She approached 41-year-old Gisela Ramirez, an employee of Ford Motor Credit Company, held the gun in a holster behind her back (but didn't draw it), and ordered the woman off the property.
Ramirez called the cops, and a week later Miami Shores Police officers cuffed Hatton and took her to jail, where she spent six hours on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon before bonding out.
It could have been a sticky situation, but Hatton had caught the whole thing on a surveillance camera. Shortly after the arrest, she presented the tape to prosecutors and charges were dismissed.
It was a rare example of someone able to quickly disprove a bogus police report. "She lied to the police," Hatton says. "I could be rotting in jail right now."
The whole thing began April 19, 2004, when Hatton's 83-year-old father Joseph, who was legally blind, entered a Coral Gables Lincoln-Mercury dealership and agreed to make payments on a new Lincoln LS.
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Hatton, who at the time was caring for Joseph, says he clearly wasn't competent to sign a legal document, let alone drive. So she returned to the dealership with the keys and attempted to work something out. Ford representatives would not negotiate, she says.
Hatton made car payments until August 2005 and then stopped. Two months later, Ramirez, a Ford investigator, was sent to collect money from the family. After the confrontation and subsequent jail time, Hatton sued both Ramirez and Ford Motor Credit Company, claiming Ramirez intentionally caused her emotional trauma.
Ramirez's lawyer, Lawrence Craig III, declined to comment about why his client would go through the mailbox, but said Hatton's claims are "scandalous and immaterial." (Meredith Libbey, a Ford spokeswoman would say only: "We regret that our efforts to mediate this matter have not been successful.")
Says Hatton: "I'm not saying everybody needs to grab an automatic weapon anytime someone steps on their property. But these people don't play nice."