I’m sure we’ve all heard the horror stories of small town law enforcement and corrupt police getting away with things that wouldn’t fly in any major metropolitan city. Few of us, however, know that feeling more than Dustin Worles, the creator and producer of Mischief. For those who don’t know, Mischief is a series of automotive films focusing on the “wild side of the automotive lifestyle.” We’ll leave it at that.
10 years ago today, Dustin was featured on the cover, above the fold, of the Washington Post for supposedly evading police in a black BMW M3 alongside 15 other illegal racers at “speeds up to 100mph.”
That of course, never happened. What actually happened was a series of illegal seizures, reckless driving tickets, and damaged cars at the hands of Augusta County police officers.
See, Dustin and a group of his closest friends were out on their yearly drive through Virginia when a few supposed phone call complaints had them on the side of the road with their cars and GoPros unlawfully seized without warrants. All of the drivers were issued reckless driving tickets, were forced to pay $3,500 in towing charges, and to appear in court in a county that was five hours away from most of them.
When the story made headlines in local papers and news channels, Justin Jouvenal of the Washington Post took note and wanted in. He and automotive news outlet Jalopnik tried reaching out to both Dustin and any of the other drivers they could contact to learn more about what happened but their calls went ignored. All but one.
Dustin’s friend Dash was the only one that Justin was able to get a hold of on the phone.
“He called up Dash’s business, and Dash answered the phone. After refusing to comment on the story, Justin got him back by slandering Dash and his family business in the article. Justin spent months reaching out to hundreds of people, including my family, my friends, and even Mischief fans, and not one person would talk to him. He even contacted my old rally friends in Europe,” Dustin explained in a Facebook post.
The article then painted the incident as a “furious 20-mile chase across two counties” and the “biggest street-racing bust in recent Virginia history,” even though there were no chases, no arrests, and no vehicles impounded. The paper even claimed that the drivers ran a retired officer off the road which, of course, didn’t happen.
In the weeks following the article, all of the drivers, including Dustin, were doxed by people who wanted to become part of a story they weren’t remotely involved in. The Augusta County police were watching all of the drivers’ social media accounts to get anything that even sounded like a confession, meaning everyone had to keep quiet. The police had no witnesses to back up their side of the story. Hell, they didn’t even KNOW what Mischief was until Jalopnik told them about their videos.
Lawyers were hired and eventually the drivers showed up in an Augusta County court after numerous postponed court dates. The best part of this whole ordeal? The Augusta County officers wrote them tickets for Highland County, where they had no jurisdiction. That alone should have had the whole case dropped, but that too did not come to be. They were all forced into taking plea bargains.
When it was all over, and the charges were dropped, Dustin mulled over the idea of suing the Washington Post for slander but because he’s considered a public figure, it would have likely been a fruitless endeavor. They ignored his requests for a correction or a retraction and the crew got no apologies from Augusta County, automotive blogs, or the car community. It all added up to a tremendous waste of two years for all involved and over $30,000 in fines and lawyer fees. Their lawyer Sheila was never allowed to work in Augusta County again after defending them and none of the GoPros were returned to their rightful owners.
“I even failed a couple of background checks because of this article,” Dustin said. “It doesn’t look good when we Google your name.”
I asked Dustin what the worst part of this whole experience was. It wasn’t the damaged cars, or the money lost, or the time wasted. It was the betrayal.
“The car community turning on us after the WP article came out and not being able to talk about it was depressing. Then the real story comes out and not one apology.”
Well so what’s the takeaway here? And what should we do if we ever find ourselves in a similar predicament?
“I’m aware that Mischief is the crazy side of automotive culture so I am not like ‘poor me’. If we got caught doing something illegal, that’s on us. Maybe this story can help others in similar situations. Like keeping your mouth shut at the time of the incident and afterwards. Stay off social media. Just act like nothing happened until it’s all over. Get a good traffic lawyer, not a friend’s lawyer.”