LONGMONT, Colo. — The City of Longmont has paid nearly $1,600 in toll fees billed to a woman whose stolen license plate was being used by a city employee.
According to internal police memos obtained by The Denver Gazette, Stephen Schulz, acting sergeant of the Longmont Police Department, took a stolen license plate from the department's property and evidence room and used it on an unmarked, take-home police car.
Schulz is also the president of the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police.
The license plate was originally on a car owned by 52-year-old Debra Romero and her husband. Romero said she and her husband sold the car but kept the license plate, which was later stolen from them.
"Well, we were moving at the time — we lived in Adams County. During that time, somehow the license plate got out of our hands and into the wrong hands because we had different people moving with us," Romero said.
The license plate later turned up in an abandoned car found by Longmont police. Officers contacted her and her husband.
"[My husband is like], 'Oh, no, we no longer have the car. You can destroy it [the license plate]. So, the police said, 'OK, we'll go ahead and do that.'" she said.
The license plate was never destroyed. Instead, Romero said it was placed on the back of an unmarked, take-home police car where it racked up E-470 toll fees from July to October of last year.
"They just kept coming, and they kept accruing charges, and I was just like, 'This isn't me,'" she said.
The total came to $1,592.72, according to Romero.
"Then, reading the Gazette, I found out some more information about the officer. I was just in shock. I just couldn't believe it, and it was sad because I spoke to the officer that was using the plate. He told me, 'Let me investigate and I'll get back to you,' so it was actually him that was using it."
On Friday, Romero said city leaders apologized to her. In addition, she was told that the City of Longmont had paid the nearly $1,600 toll fees.
Romero said she still feels deeply hurt by situation. Romero has several health issues, and for the better part of last year, the unpaid toll fees prevented her from renewing her car's registration, so she relied on family to get around town.
"It has really gotten me down because I can't drive my car and my kids, they work or they have kids in school, and I have numerous doctor's appointments, and I can't get to them. Sometimes I have to reschedule, but I always have to find a ride," she said. "I'm not a hateful person, but it really just bothers me that the authority can use people like that."
Denver7 reached out to the Longmont Police Department for comment, Deputy Chief Jeffrey Satur said, "By law, we are not able to discuss personnel issues. We have paid the tolls in full, as promised in the story."
Mayor Brian Bagley's office responded to a request for comment on Tuesday and referred Denver7 to statements Bagley made to the Longmont Daily Times-Call. Bagley said the sergeant was investigated and has been cleared. He called the incident an unfortunate mistake.
“It was an accident, and the system needs to change. But it’s unfortunate it cast this sergeant in a bad light,” Bagley said.