Civil Asset Forfeiture

DA Accused of Stealing Money From Motorists Wants To Defend Herself With Money She's Accused of Stealing From Motorists


The little town of Tenaha, Texas has been all over the news in the last year after several defense attorneys revealed the town's police had been pulling over motorists along a main highway, seizing their property (cars, cash, jewelry, etc.), then presenting them with an unsavory bargain: Sign a waiver forfeiting all of their property over to the police, or be arrested for drug crimes where, even if innocent, they'd face a night or more in jail and attorney and court fees that would usually amount to more than what the property was worth.

One defense attorney found that of 200 seizures made by Tenaha police between and 2008, just 50 were ever criminally charged. That's actually about average for forfeiture cases. It's the bargain Tenaha police struck with motorists, nearly of them black, that's illegal.

Tenaha's police department and Shelby County District Attorney Lynda K. Russell—who used forfeiture funds to pay for a Christmas party and to buy tickets to a motorcycle rally—are now subject to a federal civil rights investigation and a federal civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of motorists by the ACLU of Texas.

Here's the crazy part: Russell is attempting to use proceeds from the county's forfeiture fund to pay for her legal defense. That is, she wants to raid the fund she's accused of stealing from motorists to fund in order ot defend herself from accusations that she stole from motorists to fund it. The ultimate irony here is that when law enforcement officials freeze a suspect's assets in anticipation of a drug prosecution, the suspect isn't allowed to use any of those assets to pay for his own legal defense.

The ACLU of Texas is asking the state attorney general to block Russell.

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  1. Is this the new or the old professionalism?

  2. Asset forfeiture, in the absence of conviction for crime or assessment of civil liability after due process including trial by jury, is simply unamerican. I gather that this abominable practice has survived by wriggling through the “due process of law” loophole in the Constitution, yes? We need a constitutional amendment to end it. The principles MUST be that no property is forfeit to the government absent criminal conviction or civil determination of liability in a court of law (ideally, after trial by jury). There must be limits on how long evidence can be held after seizure, before being returned to its rightful owner(s). And if property is seized to serve a public purpose, the 5th Amendment guarantee of just compensation must be observed.

    We needed that constitutional amendment yesterday. Let’s have it.

    1. Seconded

    2. If you’re looking for an argument you’re gonna have to change the subject.

    3. What they’re doing is already unconstitutional. What would you expect an amendment to accomplish?

      Our rights ultimately depend on our willingness to demand, and if necessary, fight for them.


    4. What they’re doing is already unconstitutional. What would you expect an amendment to accomplish?

      Our rights ultimately depend on our willingness to demand, and if necessary, fight for them.


    5. My point is to eliminate the weasel wording that lets crap like this squeeze through judicial scrutiny. It isn’t enough that DUE PROCESS be observed in a taking. Someone needs to be convicted or judged liable in a court of law. Everyone here may think that asset forfeiture is unconstitutional, but obviously proponents have found ways to get the courts to rationalize and uphold the contrary position, just as they have rationalized the worst excesses of the drug war. We need new amendments that use plain words bluntly, so there can be no mistake. For the drug war, the very least we need is to say that things made or grown and sold, or services rendered, entirely within a State are NOT fit subjects for regulation or control under the commerce clause. Another amendment we have long needed would define commerce as opposed to economic activity in general, and to make clear that regulate commerce among the states does not EVER mean obstructing commerce between residents of different States.

      1. It isn’t enough that DUE PROCESS be observed in a taking.

        Due process isn’t observed in civil forfeiture. It’s blatantly unconstitutional.


    6. “due process of law” is not a loophole. It means that a judge must order whether seized property can me kept or released. ie. If they are taking $10,000 cash claiming it is drug money, you have to be convicted of a drug crime AT THE TIME the money was seized. The police were just skipping the judge and forcing you to sign your property away. That is extortion, and any contract entered into under duress is void. The entire police department should go to prison.

  3. revealed the town’s police had been pulling over motorists a main highway,

    missed a word there…

    1. The author of this article missed more than a few words. He would fit in perfectly with the people that produce the local paper here.

  4. Not to be a pedantic douche (which is the preface of a pedantic douche), but it looks like the bloggers could use a previevw feature as well.

    1. It’s the bargain Tenaha police struck with motorists, nearly all of them black, that’s illegal.

      FTFY Radley. Seriously guys, preview, preview, and preview one more time for good measure.

      I don’t think it’s douchery expecting a Publication to include all the words they intended to have in their sentences.

      1. On the upside, if they were nearly all black “suspects”, shouldn’t we be happy only 1/4 were charged.

        They coulda gotten more like 100% if they were really tryin to be dicks.

      2. The “Publication” generally does quite well on the proofreading front. This here, on the other hand, is a blog.

        I expect we can cut ’em a bit of slack, so long as the magazine stays high quality, yes?

    2. Not to be a pedantic douche (which is the preface of a pedantic douche), but it looks like the bloggers could use a previevw feature as well.

      Irony… You has it.

  5. It might be a closer question if the county and state were not refusing to defend the apparent miscreant Russell, who, along with her police henchmen, will get the benefit of the due process they allegedly denied to their victims.

  6. “Not to be a pedantic douche”

    I never think of you as pedantic. Never.

  7. What is this? police of a third world country?

    1. Oh, boy. Are you going to be like the anonoturdbot?

      “LOL! You have to admit he has a good point D00d!”

    2. “”What is this? police of a third world country?””


  8. Thats abuse of power, if convicted then they need to execute the bitch.

  9. Jeez, what is it about Texas? It seems like every Reason police-abuse post involves some small Texas town.

    Good to see the ACLU finally came out of their 20 year coma to deal with this.

    1. Mississippi is not a part of Texas.

    2. That’s pretty ignorant considering all the cases Balko talks about–Calvo was in Maryland for crying out loud (not that I’m denying Texas has problems of its own).

      1. Texas has a large population and an even larger area. So there are a lot of small towns in the state. They might run a bit higher than average on small town shitheadedness, but I wouldn’t bet much on it.

    3. Let us not leave out Louisiana

      1. Some years ago a similar racket was being run by some cops there along I-10 on cars sporting out-of-state plates.

  10. Off topic: those of us clever enough to be following Balko on Twitter will have seen his sexy new pics. Looking good, sir. Almost good enough to distract from how goddamn depressing your work is.

  11. Teneha is barely in Texas- it’s right next to Louisiana. They must have picked up some of their forfeiture behaviors from the coonasses across the state line.

  12. Scooby, yeah, that patch of Texas piney woods o’er there has been the source of a good deal of the worst racism and police misconduct in these parts.

  13. Somebody please explain the distinction between the mafia and the police again.

    Why don’t the feds go after these fuckers with RICO? They love to use it in every other situation they can.

    1. Somebody please explain the distinction between the mafia and the police again.

      The police have mustaches.

      1. The mafia have better tailors.


        1. The mafia eat cannolis instead of doughnuts.

          1. The mafia know that consensual activities by adults are not prison-worthy.

            1. “The mafia know that consensual activities by adults are not prison-worthy.”

              And they thank god daily that the government doesn’t seem to know that. Prohibition driving income as it does.


    2. As Harry Browne used to say – the only difference is that the government has flags out front.

  14. RICO = treble damages. These corrupt fucks would be paying until the day they die.

  15. The police have mustaches.

    You know who also had a mustache?

    1. Ayn Rand?

  16. I don’t think it counts unless you actually say it, Epi.

  17. The ACLU of Texas is asking the state attorney general to block Russell.

    The ACLU of Texas should be asking the state attorney general to have Russell put in front of a firing squad, peopled by those who forfeited their goods.

  18. Tom Selleck, that’s who.

  19. So did Higgins.

  20. Only one news link on a Google search, and it’s about the ACLU press release. What the hell is keeping this from being a nationwide story?

    Never mind, I think I know this.

    1. Wait why do you think it’s being kept from the press? I can’t even think of a reason why the press wouldn’t jump on a Texas=racist story.

    2. What the hell is keeping this from being a nationwide story?

      Dunno.. Did some celebrity bint flash her crotch recently or something? CNN’s only got so much airtime, after all.


  21. As did TC. In fact, only Rick lacked one. This means something, but I cannot decipher the mysteries of Stephen J. Cannell at this time.

  22. Rick was Cannell’s nod to “diversity.”

  23. Jake, that’s a very racist attitude you have towards Italians. Just because Rick was associated with Icepick doesn’t make him a mobster.

  24. Hey, I’m not the one who wrote the character.

    It’s reasonably well-known that Cannell was a committed mustache-supremacist. The character of Rick was Cannell’s attempt to hide the fact that the entire series of Magnum, P.I. was just a thinly-veiled allegory of the coming facial-hair wars (which Cannell thought would happen by 1992 at the latest).

  25. How do you explain the “The Greatest American Hero” conspiracy, then?

  26. Seeing as no one on The A-Team, or even Knight Rider (well, except for Garthe, and the mustache symbolized evil in that case), had a mustache, I call bullshit on your theory, Jake.

  27. The titular (and notably mustacheless) “hero” of the series was named Hinkley, a clear reference to Ronald Reagan’s would-be assassin. Unlike Magnum, the clean-shaven cast of Hero bumbled their way through each plot, succeeding only through blind luck and the powers of the alien suit. (The mustache-sporting aliens were clearly visible in a scene from the pilot episode, but that scene was cut for length.)

    The Greatest American Hero was Cannell’s way of illustrating his premise that while sometimes clean-shaven people can seem honest and fun, they are nevertheless unreliable and inferior to true heroes.

  28. There is an easy way to stop this. Carry a weapon, when they pull you over just kill ’em. Problem solved.

  29. Epi,

    The mustacheless of the cast of The A-Team was engineered by Frank Lupo, behind the back of Cannell.

    When The A-Team was being cast, George Peppard, Mr. T., and Dwight Schultz all sported huge, luxurious mustaches (Dirk Benedict wouldn’t be cast until later). Unfortunately for Cannell, he had to be in New York when filming was due to commence, and Frank Lupo, himself a clean-shaven man, was left — against Cannell’s wishes — to oversee the filming. Lupo, unaware of Cannell’s vision for the series, had all three men shaved for the pilot, and Cannell’s grand plan for the show (which he’d originally envisioned as a direct contrast to the mustacheless bumbling of The Greatest American Hero) was utterly ruined.

    Upon his return, realizing that he couldn’t salvage the grand moral theme of the series, Cannell turned it into a farcical parody of itself (though he did hint in two episodes that Murdock’s madness was caused by the loss of his mustache).

    He never forgot what he saw as Lupo’s betrayal.

    Knight Rider, on the other hand, didn’t present mustaches as symbols of virtue because that was a Glen Larson production, and had nothing to do with Cannell.

    1. *Sigh*

      First sentence, second word: mustachelessness

  30. By the way, I’d be remiss if I didn’t direct you all to my exhaustive work on the subject, The Mustache Ride of the Valkyries: The Hidden Teachings of Stephen J. Cannell.

  31. Sounds to me like the police were offering these people a deal. Going on the assumption that the drug charges weren’t trumped up, the police were well within their rights to arrest them. According to the article if they were arrested it would have cost them way more than the property and cash they gave up. It also says the people were given an option. They could have said no and taken the drug charges. If they didn’t want to be put in this position they shouldn’t have been carrying drugs on them.

    1. Going on the assumption that the drug charges weren’t trumped up[…]

      That’s quite an assumption you’ve got there. How’d you fit it though the door?

      1. Where are the facts to say they weren’t legitimate charges? Don’t you think that would have been significant enough to mention in the article. I am not saying the cops weren’t being opportunistic. You have to ask yourself though what could I have done to avoid putting myself in this position. The answer is not break the law.

        1. “The answer is not break the law.”

          The problem is that not doing anything wrong isn’t helping the people the cops steal from. The new thing is to claim that some item, word or action “might indicate” the possibility of a drug connection. Those little plastic bags my wife packed my snack in “might” have been intended to package drugs. No, we have no history or hint of evidence that thos little bags have anything to do with drugs, but we need money so we “must” steal your car. Part of the answer has to be for the cops to not break the law.

        2. Where are the facts to say they weren’t legitimate charges?

          How about the fact that they weren’t prosecuted?


          1. The weren’t prosecuted because they were never charged because the cops offered them a deal in order to avoid being charged.

            1. The cops offered them a “deal” so they could be robbed without a conviction. Try to keep up, will you?


            2. No, Bob, you fucking douchebag.

              The police in this case were seizing the property of ANYONE with enough cash or jewelry to make it worthwhile for them. They literally taunted their victims that it would cost them more in legal fees to fight than it would cost to just give up the property.

              They were enabled in doing this by worthless scumbags like you, who don’t see any problem with the fact that the police today are empowered to seize property before suspects have been convicted of a crime in court, in blatant defiance of the Constitution.

        3. The reason we have trials and judges and juries is to make sure we only punish the guilty. It doesn’t matter if there are police who will only strike such a deal if they truly find drugs, since there are others who will not be so noble. Narcotics departments are notorious for corruption. Sure I don’t know any corrupt cops personally, but even they have told me stories of other cops who were corrupt, or even sold drugs themselves.

          The law and constitution protects us from this. If the answer is to follow the law not break it, that applies to police and prosecutors too.

          Secondly: It would seem to me that people who truly believe drugs are destroying society, would WANT these people thrown in jail instead of merely had to pay up.

          What if this were a health inspector, taking money from people (giving it to the department not for himself) instead of writing up their rat infested kitchens. Would you say “oh great” no you’d want those restaurants closed until they clean up.

          So if you are for the law, you must therefore be for prosecuting these people. If not, then you are against the law.

    2. Never been to far East Texas have you? I would say that the only deal struck was, give me your stuff or you will either disappear , be locked down, or worse.

  32. Knight Rider, on the other hand, didn’t present mustaches as symbols of virtue because that was a Glen Larson production, and had nothing to do with Cannell.

    Well, Jake, it seems you passed my little test. But let’s see you explain The Rockford Files?

    1. Explain The Rockford Files? Child’s play! Rockford appeared in 1970, well before Cannell developed the Mustachian philosophy that would color so much of his later work.

      (I’m using the “reply to this” option now, because some people seem to think this thread is for blathering about police or some such nonsense.)

      1. Rocford premiered in 1974.

        1. You are correct. Any factual errors in my claims should be blamed on the lack of a preview function.

  33. 200 confisacations, 50 were charged. That’s corelation enough to investigate. Say it out loud Bob: They seized THREE TIMES what they charged.

    1. Yeah those 50 obviously didn’t take the deal (or weren’t offered the deal for some reason). Why would they charge people who just accepted a deal to forfeit their possession in exchange for not being charged?

  34. But all the siezures were from niggers…

  35. Tenaha Texas (pop.1402) is so corrupt that there’ve many articles in the LA Times and CNN about it, and there’s even a wikipedia article on it. I’ve warned people on many sites to stay the Hell away from that anus of a town.

  36. I live in Texas. The reason they were offered a deal is because they were inoccent of drug trafficing. It is a tactic used by the Highway Patrol aganist truckers. Stop them illeagly, give them a small fine so it isn’t worth it to fight and the county make lots of cash. The only drugs they probably had were on their one dollar bills that we all carry, and all of them have drug stains on them. Too many cops don’t have the balls to refuse doing what they know is illeagel. Don’t have spell check here I know I have miss spelled too many words.

  37. I don’t understand why Stephen J. Cannell is confiscating peoples property for having moustaches. I thought he was in support of mustaches as shown in the brilliant eassays of “The Mustache Ride of the Valkyries: The Hidden Teachings of Stephen J. Cannell”. And why isn’t the FBI investigating the involvement of Cannell with Texas law enforcement? This whole scam is really confusing. If we had some group like the A Team to go in and bust this up vigilante style things would get done a lot quicker. I miss the 80’s. BTW we need to send in the Schoolhouse Rocks Strike Team to slap the blogger around a bit and teach him basic writing skills.

  38. Ok, this is starting to make more sense now. After a thorough internet search I’ve stumbled upon the more recent collection of essays “The Shaving of the Valkyries: The Changing Idealology of a Jilted Writer “. Apparently after Cannell’s sexual advances towards both Tom Selleck and Burt Reynolds were thwarted he became a mustache bigot. Suprisingly mustaches are not protected by the U.S Constitution nor do they fall under hate crime legislation. It’s now understandable to me why neither the FBI or the press have gotten involved in this travesty of justice. If the local law enforecmment was smart they would go after all of the East Texas druggies because we know they are all guilty. Look at the harm that has resulted from all of the pot sold and smoked in the U.S. Besides most druggies have pretty nice cars and jewelry that could be confiscated. This is of course just one mans opinion.

  39. Did ANYONE proofread this article?

  40. corruption will occur as long as the current forfeiture & seizure laws remain in effect. Other states have laws where you automatically lose any cash you are carrying if it’s over a certain amount. I believe if you are found innocent or not prosecuted then you should get back everything & be able to recoup expenses incurred due to governments involvement.

  41. There are countless other offenses. Romer says, “Data…show that American factories are starting to produce again?”

    It sure isn’t expanding in Chicago.…..category=1

    Want to by preview function.

  42. Bob, I understand read’in is hard so let me repeat what the story said.
    “One defense attorney found that of 200 seizures made by Tenaha police between and 2008, just 50 were ever criminally charged. That’s actually about average for forfeiture cases. It’s the bargain Tenaha police struck with motorists, nearly of them black, that’s illegal.” In other words after they charge 50 of the 200 people who signed over their stuff. The other 150 people they didnt have enough evidence to charge. I understand that using your brain is hard but come on, what the police where doing was illegal. There was no due process, they where taking advantage of these people since defending themselves against false charges would cost more them the price of their stuff. Its really not hard to understand what was happening here, if you can read.

    1. I think it might be you that has the reading comprehension problem, especially when the quote you posted contradicts what you are saying. Nowhere in the article does it state that the 150 weren’t charged because there was no evidence. They weren’t charged because they struck a deal. “It’s the bargain Tenaha police struck with motorists”. I also never commented on the legality of the practice. All I said was that it is a good deal. You get pulled over, you have drugs on you, and the cops offer to let you go if you give them some cash. Sounds like a win-win to me. I’d take the deal.

      1. No where in the article does it say the people were carrying drugs. It says they were offered the deal in order not to be charged with drug offenses. “Boy, why you got this roll of cash? You must be a drug dealer. Sign it over or we will charge you with conspiracy to launder drug money.” “Or how did you buy this car? Can you prove you didn’t sell drugs to get the money? No, then we are gonna take it.”

  43. Further more a cop does not have the authority to offer a deal in exchange for property

    1. Maybe not, but he does have the right to beg you not to pull the trigger of the .38 you just stuck in his ear.

  44. Does anyone edit these articles? If you’re going to make a point, at least make a grammatically correct point.

  45. radley was dictating to his dog.

  46. James Anderson Merritt|10.2.09 @ 3:58PM|#

    Well said.

    And Jake Boone,your theories are brilliant.

    Good article by Radley (I read the edited version :p).

  47. It’s TEXAS. Who is dumb enough to travel to Texas? It hasn’t been a part of the United States for over a decade.

  48. Some people say this kind of thing does not happen. But, this is why I believe the cops are not our friends and we must protect ourselves from them as well as the bad guys. To the police, I will resist you when ever and where ever I can untill you are brought to justice for the crimes that you commit. And if a good cop knows about a bad cop but does nothing, he is a bad cop as well. Ergo, ther are NO good cops.

  49. Since this article makes me want to scream profanities and wish horrible, horrible, deaths on the worthless scum that perpetrated this, I will instead tell a joke about a city just North of shithole Tenaha.

    Two guys are driving through Texas when they see a sign that reads “Nacogdoches 22 mi.”. They start arguing about how the city’s name is pronounced. The keep at it until one says “look, we’ll just pull over and ask, alright?”

    They finally get to the city, pull over at a restaurant, and walk up to the counter. One of the guys says to the server “excuse me, could you pronounce, very slowly, the name of the place we’re in?”

    The counter guy looks at them like they’re crazy, and then says “Burrrr-gerrrrr Kiiiing”.

  50. Stories like this diminish my inherent distaste for mob violence.

    This woman should be stripped naked on the courthouse steps and whipped with a barbed wire cat’o’nine tails.

  51. Now that I have read all the comments, I have this to add:

    Dear Bob,

    Shut the fuck up, and go kill yourself.


    1. What an intelligent well thought out rebuttal

  52. this is absolutly crazy which by the kind of world we live in today Im not surprised, remember the iran-contra Oliver north gun trade police and power playing of the minds of people despert to fight crime even when the tactics they(police) use are illegal

  53. The thing that is so ironic about this is, why the hell is Obama not coming out and saying that ‘The police acted stupidly’?

  54. Obama gets all wee-weed(spelling?) up because cops ask one black man for his id after they received a call about a possible break in, and here you have cops stopping 200 motorist, all black, and extorting all their property from them? And Obama says nothing? Obama is looking ‘more stupidly’ each day.

  55. Hyperion, that happened in DC, to a pal of his, and it made the national news. This happened in Nowhere, TX, to a bunch of little people, and it’s here in Reason magazine.

  56. You niggers gonna come thru my state gonna get raped one way or th’other. Pay up motherfuckers.

  57. While there may be some rare justice in this one case, it’s quite normal for the federal government to seize a defendant’s assets so they can’t afford an attorney. In other words, the presumption of innocence does not apply to one’s property. We can all agree that criminals should not profit from their crimes, but being able to afford the attorney of their choice shouldn’t be considered profiting from one’s crime – especially since no conviction of a crime has yet occurred.

  58. Colorado has been using the forfeiture law for many years. I know several people who lost houses, cars, businesses, boats, etc with no civil or criminal conviction. Under CO law, it is the owner’s responsibility to prove the property should be returned. I know several have walked away from all their belongings and filed BK because it was easier than to fight the state and feds to get it returned.

  59. are now subject to a federal civil rights investigation and a federal civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of motorists by the ACLU of Texas.

    About fucking time those two organizations did something related to their purpose in life.

  60. Our government is CORRUPT from the local all the way to the federal level. We need to clean house.

  61. The central purpose of Governmant is the looting of the governed.

  62. I heard someone once say.

    Give them a fair trial and then hang them.

    Seriously, this little cow piss town was certainly in violation in all that it supposedly stands for. I would like to see the whole department tried under the “RICO Law” because they were extorting money from people presumed innocent in a Mafia Style fashion. Throw the book at the officers, administrators, clerks and judges associated with this town. Everyone will be found to be complicate.

  63. And they wonder why we don’t respect them! Gee, why don’t people trust the local, officer friendly?
    Well, here’s a question for those of you who supported the war on Iraq. When/If the soldiers return, they will need a job….yes, in this economy. So, if the police are doing this in Hicksville, USA what do you suppose the ex-soldier/police officer will do? The one who oversaw gang rapes of “raghead” children to force their parents to talk? And now has a new job at YOUR local police precinct. The ones who destroyed Fallujah with white phospherous, and now have a job at the local fire department, or a cush job with the medical examiner..LOLOL!! What do you suppose will be their reaction to a bunch of dandies pleading for the right to sign a petition to make them behave like gentlemen? Will THAT finally make you think twice about sending Johnny off to fight someone else’s war?

    It’s already too late.

  64. They shouldn’t have been riding dirty…

    I Caucus With Patriots!!

  65. There are several typos in this post, I suggest editing.

  66. We need to start lynch mobs on these State and Federal government crooks. Yes, what I am proposing is domestic terrorism, and I don’t care.

  67. The comment section is way more interesting than the article itself. Thanks for setting me straight on mustaches, gentlemen!

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  69. This sounds like something that San Jose, California Police Officers Thomas Tortoricci & Gabriel Cuenca would do! We were hindered to go to the San Jose police Department because the criminals were the police! They threatened to falsely arrest me if I spoke about the crime! Our incident happened in January of 2006! The San Jose Police Department and the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office is now well aware of the incident that happened to us in January of 2006, yet these sickos are still on the streets!

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