Innocent family members in handcuffs after carjackers switch license plates

PONTOON BEACH, IL (KTVI) - Police thought they'd tracked down carjackers from Alabama at a St. Louis area motel early Tuesday morning. The vehicle description and the license plate matched. Still, it turned out the vehicle was not stolen. Its owner now claims she and her family were mistreated by police.

It looked like Pontoon Beach Police had solved a terrible, out-of-state crime. That turned out not to be.

Police Chief Christopher Modrusic apologized to those involved and was reviewing the incident Wednesday, he said. Around 5:55 Tuesday morning surveillance video shows police escorting the vehicle owner from the Motel 6 near I-270 and Hwy. 111 to her vehicle, no guns, no handcuffs.

"At that time I do not show her being restrained or any force being used at all," Modrusic said.

Though he admitted, officers did use at least some degree of force. Patrol officers routinely cruise the motel parking lots near Interstate 270. When officers checked the Alabama plates of a black Honda CR-V on the Motel 6 lot, the plates matched a black Honda CR-V stolen in a carjacking in Huntsville, AL, in October, Modrusic said.

Officers traced the vehicle to six people, staying in two motel rooms.

"Being that this was listed as a carjacking/robbery, believing people may still be armed. They don't know who they're going to encounter behind the door and so forth...a male subject opened the door. They had the male subject exit the room. They had him lay down on the ground," Modrusic said.

A female subjected also laid on the ground. Police placed both in handcuffs.

"To be attacked by a SWAT team out of your dead sleep and almost killed, it could have easily happened if we hadn't been thinking straight," said Russell

Dayton, the father of the CR-V owner. "It was an accident that could have been very easily prevented. With 5 minutes of good police work, they could have prevented all of this."

Officers did call for back up from the Madison County Sheriff's Department, Modrusic said. There were 6-8 officers total at the scene, he said. When a woman in the second room told police, she owned the car, police walked with her to retrieve her registration, Modrusic said. It checked out; she had a similar vehicle with a carjacked plate, but a different year and VIN.

"This is an unfortunate incident. This is a tough job right now for law enforcement. We have to worry about the safety of the officers, we have to worry about the safety of guests in our hotel. We have to worry about their safety, too, anybody that we're coming in contact with. It's just a very unfortunate incident and circumstances with this. I wish it would never have occurred," Modrusic said. "We're out there trying to get bad people off the's a very unfortunate turn of events. We still don't know how that plate got on that car."

The owner reported she noticed her plate was loose a couple of months ago, around the time the other vehicle was carjacked, Modrusic said.

Perhaps the carjackers switched plates then.

She simply tightened the plate screws, paying no attention to the plate number, Modrusic said.

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