Oklahoma D.A. Contracts Out Highway Robbery

Office of Jason HicksOffice of Jason HicksWhat's worse than the perverse incentives created by civil forfeiture laws that let police and prosecutors keep the property they seize? An arrangement that pays a private business a share of the loot for training cops how to maximize forfeitures, then lets the trainers make traffic stops under the color of law. That last part was too much for Caddo County, Oklahoma, Special Judge David A. Stephens, who recently scolded Joe David, owner of Desert Snow LLC, for pulling over and questioning a pregnant motorist on Interstate 40 even though he is not an actual police officer. "I'm shocked," Stephens said at a July 2 hearing. "For people to pull over people on I-40 without that license is shocking to me....If you do [it again], I hope to see you soon, wearing orange."

Even if David had not impersonated a police officer, his contract with District Attorney Jason Hicks, who hired David to train members of his anti-drug task force, would be (or should be) scandalous. The Oklahoman reports that Hicks agreed to "pay the Guthrie-based company 25 percent of any funds seized during actual training days," plus "10 percent of funds seized by his task force on other days when the company trainers weren't present." Its total take under that formula would be more than $250,000 of the $1 million or so in cash seized by the task force this year. This arrangement, observes a defense attorney interviewed by The Oklahoman, "at least gives the appearance that these seizures are done for profit and not to protect the citizens."

That's putting it mildly. The contract was basically a license to steal, with no fig leaf of public purpose. At least when cops and prosecutors use forfeiture to fund their budgets, there are restrictions on how they can spend the money. They are not supposed to go on vacations or buy cars for personal use, for instance. A private contractor like David faces no such limits. He is, in essence, a highway robber who escapes arrest and punishment by colluding with the police.

Hicks responded to criticism of his contract with David by suspending the operation. "His prosecutors have dropped all criminal cases arising from the drug stops," The Oklahoman reports, and "some seized money is being returned." Hicks, who is the elected district attorney for Grady, Stephens, Caddo, and Jefferson counties, nevertheless defended the interdiction project, saying, "I believe I have done everything right." 

The Oklahoman notes that in some cases "no drugs were found and no one was arrested, but task force officers took money found in the vehicles anyway after a drug-sniffing dog got excited." More on excitable drug-sniffing dogs here.

[Thanks to Allen St. Pierre for the tip.]

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  • Hyperion||

    gives the appearance that these seizures are done for profit and not to protect the citizens

    NO! It can't be!

  • Duke||

    Oklahoma also gives people the appearance they are purchasing actual alcoholic beverages.

  • Hyperion||

    What are they purchasing?

  • ||

    5% beer- unless they want it hot.

  • Zeb||

    You mean 3.2 beer? 5% is pretty standard.

  • Hyperion||

    I didn't even realize that 3.2% beer existed anymore, until I started reading this blog.

    The last time I saw 3.2 beer was in Ohio in 1981.

  • Hyperion||

    So, I can't buy cold beer that contains more than 5% alcohol?

    Never surprised by the absurdity of laws like this, since they seem to be everywhere.

  • tarran||

    Ah yes, the Tax Farming stage of declining empire.

    The whole point of a good liberal arts degree was to teach people the implications of these really, really bad ideas...'

    To bad western civilization is so othering and patriarchal.

  • Killazontherun||

    Reminds me of a scene in a Bruce Sterling novel where the Air Force holds a bake sell in the middle of a highway. If you so happened to needed to pass, they'd be glad to let you through once you bought and enjoyed a slice of pie.

  • Killazontherun||

    If you so happened to needed to pass, they'd be glad to let you through once you bought and enjoyed a slice of pie.

    I blame my brain and what I have put it through over the years. Coffee barely fazes it for the purposes of keeping it sharp any longer.

  • ||

    What's worse than the perverse incentives created by civil forfeiture laws that let police and prosecutors keep the property they seize?

    Government is itself the most perverse incentive of all. By its very nature it cannot help but attract the worst possible people. It will always fail.

  • ||

    That can't be true, because you're not in government. Are you claiming that there's someone worse than you?

  • ||

    Me!

    But...I'm not in government either.

  • ||

    You know that nicole is worse. She knows. We all know. But even nicole isn't government-level worst.

  • ||

    Do you mean to say there is another whole level of superlatives reserved expressly for government?

  • ||

    Look, I would like nothing more than to reserve the most superlative insults possible for nicole, but yes, government has its own levels of terrible.

  • ||

    Top. Men.

  • ||

    "For people to pull over people on I-40 without that license is shocking to me....If you do [it again], I hope to see you soon, wearing orange."

    WTF!?! That motherfucker should be behind bars right fucking now.

    FUCK!

  • ||

    What happens if the person refuses search? Do they arrest them? I need more nut kicking detail!

  • Hyperion||

    What happens if the person refuses search?

    You mean, if they don't have a dog to shoot, what happens next?

  • ||

    That goes without saying. Maybe the private company takes their children away?

  • NeonCat||

    They give them a stray dog then shoot it.

  • Duke||

    His prosecutors have dropped all criminal cases arising from the drug stops, The Oklahoman was told. Some seized money is being returned. The attorney general's office is investigating one complaint some seized funds went missing.

    Ok class, which word stands out here?

  • A Serious Man||

    That's putting it mildly. The contract was basically a license to steal, with no fig leaf of public purpose. At least when cops and prosecutors use forfeiture to fund their budgets, there are restrictions on how they can spend the money. They are not supposed to go on vacations or buy cars for personal use, for instance. A private contractor like David faces no such limits. He is, in essence, a highway robber who escapes arrest and punishment by colluding with the police.

    I was a highwayman. Across the coach roads I did ride.
    With sword and pistol by my side.
    Many a young maid last her baubles to my trade
    Many a soldier shed his lifeblood on my blade
    The bastards hung me in the spring of '25
    But I am still alive...

  • ||

    I prefer this:

    The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.
    The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.
    The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
    And the highwayman came riding—
    Riding—riding—
    The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

  • Cliché Bandit||

    great song, i have her on my iphone right now,.

  • Hyperion||

    I am the thief of the highway
    Rich man you better take hold
    'cause last night while you lie sleeping
    I came to steal all your gold

    All the king's horses
    All the king's men
    Surrounded the chapel
    To trap me within

    A lady in waiting
    Lips red with rouge
    She offered me pleasures
    I could not refuse
    No, no, no

    For I was born
    Born for adventure
    Women whiskey and sin
    No I'll never surrender
    Live by the sword till the end

  • ||

    Serious is Vargo Hoat?

  • Tonio||

    At seventeen I took a wife
    I loved her dearer than I loved me life
    And so to keep her both fine and gay
    I went out robbing on the king's highway
    I went out robbing on the king's highway

  • Matrix||

    "some seized money is being returned."
    Yeah, we confiscated several thousand, so we're returning $20 to you. That should make us even...

  • ||

    There ARE administrative fees, you know.

  • John||

    You have to pay shipping and special processing fees you know.

  • some guy||

    Also you failed to opt-out of the donation to our sheriff's re-election campaign. Thanks for that, by the way.

  • Matrix||

    So basically, we would return the money confiscated, but after all our calculations, fees, and penalties, you owe us $100.

  • John||

    Exactly. Your fee for performing here was $500, but the band drank $600 worth of beer son.

  • AlgerHiss||

    Hicks' 2010 election site:

    http://jasonhicksda.com/

  • Killazontherun||

    J.C. Watts Endorses Jason Hicks!!!

    Oh no, its just that one party that's the problem.

  • ||

    The contract was basically a license to steal, with no fig leaf of public purpose.

    If "we" don't think there's ever much of a fig leaf of public purpose, or at least that the public purpose is nothing but a fig leaf, then does this even make a difference? I mean, it seems bad to me, but it doesn't seem actually any worse than the "okay" version of this practice. Really, in no respect am I getting how this is worse. It's always exactly as bad as this, but for some incomprehensible reason, some people think it's not.

  • ||

    Because for so many people, if it is "legal" and done by the "proper" people, it is fine. No matter how reprehensible the action is, if done by the right actors, it is acceptable.

  • ||

    Princess Nicole hereby waves her wand and makes this legal. Poof! Everyone go home now, nothing to see here.

  • ||

    Well how'd you become princess then? I didn't vote for you!

  • A Serious Man||

    She has baby dragons and an army of Unsullied.

  • ||

    I see nicole as more of a Tully or a Tyrell than a Targaryen, to be honest.

  • ||

    Me too. I mean what would I do with all those eunuchs? Be reasonable.

  • ||

    You don't vote for princess, idiot. I put on my prettiest dress, hose, and a hat. Isn't that how it works?

  • John||

    You are not elected, you are crowned.

  • Hyperion||

    Look, princesses do not wear a damn hat, they wear a princess tiara.

    It's like saying that a libertarian wears round wire frame glasses, instead of a monocle.

    You are an obvious usurper.

  • ||

    Supreme executive power comes from a mandate from the masses, not some farcical aquatic ceremony!

  • John||

    This is why women are not ever Libertarians, Libertarians won't let them be Princesses.

  • Tonio||

    Warty held aloft excalibur from the bosom of the swamp, signifying by divine providence that she, Nicole, was princess.

  • John||

    The sin was that they didn't have badges. But they didn't do anything that any real cop couldn't have done.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    I think it's worse because it could be more widespread than if the cops had to get off their asses and go do it all the time.

  • John||

    It is amazing they were dumb enough to ever take a case to court and get caught. All they had to do was only pull over obviously poor and preferably out of state people, take their money and then never bring charges. As long as they didn't take any money from a respectable white person who had the means to hire an attorney to sue to get their shit back, what is anyone going to do about it? They only got caught because they were dumb enough to go before a judge.

  • ||

    Highway robbery is illegal. The fact that police are allowing it by refusing to make arrests does not make it legal.

    Police do not have the authority to grant people dispensations that excuse them from obeying the law.

    Even the Pope can't do that, and he's got a much cooler uniform...

  • ||

    For people to pull over people on I-40 without that license is shocking to me....If you do [it again], I hope to see you soon, wearing orange.

    IOW, stop trying to muscle in on the judge's territory.

  • Killazontherun||

    This is why we need a strict separation of road and state.

  • Metazoan||

    IOW Somalia

  • Killazontherun||

    The United States, when we populated the entire continent, forged cities from coast to coast, and did not spend a public dime on the roads. Google turnpikes.

  • John||

    I am also surprised the police unions are not up in arms about this. Who told this DA he could use contractors to do union labor?

  • The Late P Brooks||

    But the judge did not order the bailiff to clap the bracelets on that motherfucker and take him directly to the county jail to await trial.

  • Tonio||

    Yeah, I noticed that, too.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    And by "that motherfucker" I mean the District Attorney.

  • John||

    The Obama appointee implicated in congressional testimony in the IRS targeting scandal met with President Obama in the White House two days before offering his colleagues a new set of advice on how to scrutinize tea party and conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.

    IRS chief counsel William Wilkins, who was named in House Oversight testimony by retiring IRS agent Carter Hull as one of his supervisors in the improper targeting of conservative groups, met with Obama in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on April 23, 2012. Wilkins’ boss, then-IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman, visited the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on April 24, 2012, according to White House visitor logs.

    On April 25, 2012, Wilkins’ office sent the exempt organizations determinations unit “additional comments on the draft guidance” for approving or denying tea party tax-exempt applications, according to the IRS inspector general’s report.

    Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2013/07.....z2ZnmltptX

    They were probably there for the Easter Egg Hunt or something. And a chief counsel of an agency meeting directly with the President is unheard of. The office of legal counsel to the President gives the President legal advice. There is simply no reason for the President to meet with a Chief Counsel and if he did, OLC would have kittens about the encroachment on their turf.

  • Killazontherun||

    He's teflon, and knows it. Else, he would have done what every president before him since Kennedy had done when the works got a bit too wet, create a veneer of plausible deniability. He doesn't even bother. Brags about his kills to the NYT instead.

    You are right about the peculiarity of that meeting. No chief of staff of previous administration would have allowed that kind of exposure for his president, nor would he have been willing to take the inevitable grief that the turf war would have caused. Something is very amiss about this administration even when considering the long string of power expansion from previous ones.

  • John||

    There is no way you can explain that meeting. But the good news for Obama is that he will never have to explain it. The Journolisters who cover the White House are too fucking stupid and uninformed how out of the ordinary that meeting is. They will happily believe and repeat the spin that "Obama was just meeting with one of his appointees" because they are too stupid to know any better and even if they weren't, they would happily lie about it anyway.

  • Hyperion||

    Give it up, bagger! The scandal is fake, Buttplug said so!

  • creech||

    Probably was in the neighborhood buying Skittles and Ice Tea and thought he'd be neighborly and call on Our Glorious Leader.

  • John||

    He is just another guy in the neighborhood. He just dropped by to see how things were going. You know, people drop by and meet with the President unannounced all of the time.

  • A Serious Man||

    This is the kind of shit where I wish we could bring back the stockade, where citizens can throw rotten fruit at the offenders. To be followed by a tar and feathering with the victim finally being ran out of town on the rail.

  • Zeb||

    "Stockade"

    I think you mean stocks. Or more likely pillory. Stockade is the wall made of pointy sticks.

  • Tonio||

    And it's run out on a rail. The guest of honor would be perched upon (or perhaps tied to) a rail (a piece of wood, not a railroad track) and carried out of town. It was not a comfortable ride.

  • shamalam||

    How can civil asset forfeiture be legal under the constitution? I am not a lawyer but how does the government get by the 4th amendment when they stop a motorist on the interstate and take a pile of cash from him without arresting him or ever proving a crime?

  • John||

    It is a fifth amendment takings issue. And the courts have said that the due process due to you for taking your shit is less than putting you in jail. So they can take your shit and you have to sue to get it back.

  • shamalam||

    I am sure you are correct, being a lawyer and all, but it makes no sense to me at all. It sounds like SCOTUS is saying: "Be glad we only took your property, we could have thrown you in jail or killed you if we wanted to. You got off easy, douche bag"

  • John||

    It is bullshit. See Tarran's post below. They charge the item with the crime. There are tons of cases out there that read like

    U.S. v. A 2001 Lear Jet. No shit.

  • shamalam||

    So, what would it take to make civil asset forfeiture illegal, a constitutional amendment or a reinterpretation of existing con law by SCOTUS?

  • John||

    You are using the property to facilitate a crime or the property was bought with the proceeds of criminal behavior, thus it is contraband.

  • shamalam||

    John, I can buy that argument. My problem is that it implies that the state has established that you are committing a crime or that you committed a crime and you got the money from the commission of a crime. From the CAF accounts I have read there have been no charges filed or charges brought, i.e. no criminal conduct has been established yet property and cash is still "forfeited".

  • John||

    Since they are not putting you in jail, they don't need to meet the beyond a reasonable doubt standard. They only have to show by a preponderance of the evidence that it was the proceeds of or used for a crime. And even then, they can take it and you have to sue to make them prove that.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    -It is a fifth amendment takings issue.

    I don't think that's how it is usually analyzed. Isn't it usually analyzed under the Due Process clause of the 14th or 5th?

  • John||

    If it is the State, it would be a 14th. I was being sloppy and thinking of just the feds doing it where it would just implicate the 5th. Also, state constitutions have takings protections and they would be done under those as well.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    I don't think that is correct. SCOTUS has long held the Takings Clause is not implicated by asset forfeiture because 'The government may not be required to compensate an owner for property which it has already lawfully acquired under the exercise of governmental authority other than the power of eminent domain.' Bennis v. Michigan (1996), United States v. Fuller(1973);United States v. Rands (1967).

  • John||

    yeah, I guess it would be a 4th Amendment "seizure". Good catch.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    It's not a seizure either. It comes from statutory or common law nuisance abatement provisions. People have contested on 5th Amendment Takings grounds but generally lose because of the taking is not considered accomplished by the power of eminent domain. So generally the challenge is made under Due Process grounds, though it still usually loses here.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    The initial seizure would be one thing, the forfeiture another.

  • John||

    Thanks. It has been a long time since I thought about that area of the law and clearly I have forgotten everything I knew.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    Sorry if I came off as a know it all, just finished my 1L and had something of a Due Process Nazi for Con Law.

  • John||

    If you didn't come accross as a know it all, they wouldn't give you an account on Hit and Run. ;-)

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    My explanation doesn't make it any better of course. This amorphous 'abatement of a public nuisance' which is not a criminal matter is even worse since if it was done under eminent domain there'd at least in theory be Takings protections.

  • John||

    And you know what is worse, talk to any federal agent and they will tell you one the greatest things about forfeiture is that it keeps defendants from having the money to hire good lawyers. Yeah, to them depriving someone of a competent defense is a feature of the program not a bug.

  • tarran||

    They are charging the cash with a crime. Yes, it's that insane. Remember all the guys who would sneer at Nero ordering the ocean whipped to punish it? Well, the U.S. government is just as deranged.

  • Tonio||

    Yep, "The US vs $540 in Cash". You see cases like that all the time on federal court dockets.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    This is the kind of shit where I wish we could bring back the stockade

    Fuck that; this is a job for Docteur Guillotine's marvelous machine.

  • Slammer||

    This is the kind of shit where I wish we could bring back the stockade

    In addition to the being laughed at and having vegetables thrown at them a lot of people were fucked from behind while in the stockade. Anonymity.

  • Floridian||

    "fucked from behind while in the stockade"

    How is that a punishment? It is just like summer camp, but free.

  • Tonio||

    You didn't go to summer camp with Warty.

  • Floridian||

    I didn't catch the name as I was hit from behind with a black jack.

  • Hyperion||

    Part of the problem is that most Americans, outside of this blog, never even hear news about things like this.

  • Slammer||

    And if they do, they don't care. Or see what the problem is.

  • Hyperion||

    That also. A lot of people would just shrug and say, well I don't drive on I-40, doesn't affect me.

  • Floridian||

    And if they do hear about it their reaction is Luke warm at best. Isolated incident and what not. We can't get by without government so we have to put up with these little hiccups.

  • ||

    That and people figure only bad guys are affected. They'd never ever pull some guy over and take all the cash he had on him to buy a new car. If the money was taken from him, it MUST have been drug money.

  • Floridian||

    The irony is that so many people who support the drug war used when they were young. I really don't get it.

  • Tonio||

    They were the kids who were never caught.

  • Zeb||

    Well, it's because part of being a proper grown up is accepting that the government owns you and that is just how it is. That's my best explanation for today.

    Even odder is that a lot of people who actually currently use drugs are ambivalent or pro-prohibition. I think that people just can't imagine it being any other way.

  • Tonio||

    "Isolated incidents" is the preferred term used by statists and reality-deniers.

  • shamalam||

    The cops, or maybe more accurately the CopOcrats as Dunphy calls them, always complain that CAF is a "powerful crime fighting tool, so we gotta keep it...". The implication is that their motivation is not to steal a bunch of money and property.

    One way to fix this at the state level is to pass a law that says, "all property and anything of value seized by the cops will be auctioned off at the end of the year and 100% of the proceeds will be returned to individual tax payers on a pro rata basis". This would retain the awesome "crime fighting tool" aspects of CAF and it would remove the incentive for police to become armed robbers.

  • Tonio||

    Stealing stuff and giving it to other people is the problem, not the solution.

  • Zeb||

    It might be a good (or at least amusing) way of calling them on their bullshit. If you just want CAF because it is effective in fighting crime and not because it gets your agency lots of extra cash, then you shouldn't object to just using it to reduce people's taxes.

    I'd still rather see no one's stuff gets stolen though (including drugs and drug money).

  • sloopyinca||

    The Oklahoman reports that Hicks agreed to "pay the Guthrie-based company 25 percent of any funds seized during actual training days," plus "10 percent of funds seized by his task force on other days when the company trainers weren't present." Its total take under that formula would be more than $250,000 of the $1 million or so in cash seized by the task force this year.

    Well, one thing's for sure: the writer of this paragraph is not a math scholar.

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