Asset Forfeiture

Drug Enforcement Administration Refuses to Pay Man for Ruining His Truck During an Undercover Drug Sting About Which He Wasn't Told

|

Readers familiar with Reason know a drug war horror story or two, but what happened to Craig Patty's property and his peace of mind, thanks to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), is still rather shocking. The Houston Chronicle has the story which confirms the DEA's ability to steal from citizens and (so far in this case) get away with it.

Last October, Patty, the owner of a trucking company in Texas, hired Lawrence Chapa as a driver. By November 21:

Chapa was shot dead in front of more than a dozen law enforcement officers—all of them taken by surprise by hijackers trying to steal the red Kenworth T600 truck and its load of pot.

In the confusion of the attack in northwest Harris County, compounded by officers in the operation not all knowing each other, a Houston policeman shot and wounded a Harris County sheriff's deputy.

Not to mention, Patty's truck was in ruins. It turned out Chapa wasn't answering to Patty, but to the DEA as an undercover marijuana smuggler looking to bust cartels. In the few short weeks that Chapa worked for the trucking company, he often drove where he wasn't supposed to, once taking a 1,000 mile detour.

The tragedy of a man's death, particularly in service of a nasty government organization (to say nothing of the worse cartels) is one thing, but it seems pretty clear that if the DEA was using Patty's employee, and more importantly, his property, without the man's knowledge, they should pay for the estimated $133,532 in damages and lost wages. Patty is asking the DEA for that amount, plus an addition $1.3 million because he says his family now fears for their lives due to the potential for the brush with cartels meaning that dangerous men now know the name of Patty's truck company. 

So, what's the difference between this and asset forfeiture, a disturbing law enforcement trend that feeds off of and feeds into the continued drug war by allowing police to keep the cars, money, and property that they seize in drug crimes? (Radley Balko has a good introduction to the practice here. Suffice to say, it mostly means that property can be "guilty" in a crime and then seized…Except that government officials can take that property before a conviction or even an arrest. And in order to get it back, it's often very costly for the plaintiff. It sure seems like this practice was pioneered by people with either a terrific or a very shoddy understanding of incentives.)

Well, as Mike Riggs reported earlier today, asset forfeiture has increased in dramatically in the last several years under Obama's Department of Justice. Check it out, the numbers are deeply disturbing.

Basically, if they can do that, why not ruin a truck with bullet holes and blood and guts and then refuse to pay damages? The DEA won't confirm that Chapa was an undercover, but the Chronicle claims that documents, prosecutor comments, and off the record quotes confirm this to be the case.

Patty's truck was insured, but the company won't pay because the truck was used in a law enforcement operation. Meanwhile, Patty's lawyer advised him to sue if the DEA doesn't cough up. But eight months have gone by and, wonders Patty:

"How am I — a small businessman, father of three, American Joe from Texas — supposed to make a claim against a federal agency that has conveniently shrouded itself behind a red, white and blue cloak of confidentiality and secrecy?"

Reason on the DEA and more on asset forfeture 

NEXT: Reid Claims Romney Paid No Taxes for Ten Years, But Won't Reveal Source

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Note to self: Don’t read reason when you are already in a shitty mood.

    Just go ahead and nuke the whole fucking planet from space, the human race is too stupid to live.

    1. It’s the only way to be sure.

  2. Good thing we live under the rule of law, huh.

    1. ‘kin A!

    2. More rule of flaw or rule of maw. Or maybe rule of pa.

      1. Rule of slaw?

          1. Rule of gnaw.

            1. Rule of awe; rule of moi?

              1. Rule of paw-paw.

    3. Unclear what this has to do with the rule of law. Who committed a crime and is not being charged with it?

      1. Is this your new handle for playing dumb? or are you not playing?

      2. The DEA? Stealing is still against the law.

  3. Unbelievable.

    Except it’s totally believable.

    We. Are. DOOOOOOOOOOOOMED.

  4. Radley Balko has a good introduction…

    Oh no you don’t, Lucy. My nuts are well acquainted with Mr. Balko’s steel plated puncher-fist of justice. I’m fine right here, thank you.

  5. This whole thing reads like a really dark, and rejected, episode of The Simpsons.

    1. A “B” story for a Breaking Bad episode.

  6. The infuriating part is that this shit happens all too often.

  7. a Houston policeman shot and wounded a Harris County sheriff’s deputy

    The SD must have reached for a gun.

    1. Reached? Hell, he was brandishing a gun. That’s what happens to idiots. Good shoot.

    2. Maybe they both just wanted a paid vacation.

    3. NO! NO! NO!
      This is a blatant lie!

      He shot the SHERIFF!

      But he did NOT shoot the deputy!

  8. In the confusion of the attack in northwest Harris County, compounded by officers in the operation not all knowing each other, a Houston policeman shot and wounded a Harris County sheriff’s deputy.

    Blind squirrel, nut, etc.

    1. can anyone say “we need more money for training, particularly joint-agency training. We may even need a special inter-agency task force.” There will be some money grab that flows from this.

    2. That’s just the decent frosting on a horrible tasting cake. Gotta take the good where you can get it I guess.

  9. a Houston policeman shot and wounded a Harris County sheriff’s deputy.

    And they didn’t charge the truck’s owner with attempted murder? These guys are slippin’.

  10. US attorney is using the threat of forfeiture to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington State:

    The letter sent by Eastern Washington U.S. Attorney Michael Ormsby threatened to seize the properties and threatened to fine or imprison the landlords if they did not close the shops within a few weeks.

    http://www.kpq.com/07-31-12-We…..-/13857800

    1. The SCOTUS signing off on civil forfeiture, which is clearly unconstitutional, was a low moment in court history. Like Dred Scott low.

      1. It’s part of the common law, the mangy ass of which is kissed every other day by Reason commenters.

        1. I don’t think that’s right. While some asset forfeiture has occurred in the past, it’s a relatively recent practice. In fact, I think it didn’t really get going until the last thirty years or so.

        2. I don’t remember the details, but I think that asset forfeiture was something the English did–therefore, “common law”, but the practice wasn’t adopted under U.S. common law. Obviously, we do it now, but that’s statutory.

        3. I think it orientated in customs seizures, where the crime and the property were pretty much one and the same.

    2. The local DA should charge Ormsby with extortion.

  11. But guys! Didn’t you hear? The War on Drugs is over!

  12. Now did Craig Patty really build this business? His trucks used roads, his drivers might have gone to school, the fire department probably inspected his office, and the police undoubtedly ticketed some of his drivers. It happened because all of us worked together.

  13. The DEA is in a difficult position because paying up would mean admitting the guy was an informant, which they don’t want to do for a host of other legally valid reasons.

    I would relieve them of their burden by eliminating their agency and repealing the drug laws, but this isn’t just a case of govt being mean.

    1. I think the bad guys might have already figured it out.

  14. “How am I ? a small businessman, father of three, American Joe from Texas ? supposed to make a claim against a federal agency that has conveniently shrouded itself behind a red, white and blue cloak of confidentiality and secrecy?”

    Fuck you, asshole. If you didn’t want your shit commandeered and destroyed, maybe you shouldn’t have tried to employ people and make a living WHILE USING THE GOVERNMENT’S INFRASTRUCTURE. Frankly, your property was used to transport illegal substances, so you should be thankful you’re not in jail.

    1. Almost there. Just need a line about “social contract” and then you can work on White Indian Professor’s campaign.

      1. Please do not invoke that name.

    2. LOL! What part of “You didn’t build that” do you not understand?

  15. The tragedy of a man’s death, particularly in service of a nasty government organization…

    I fail to see how this qualifies as a tragedy for Chapa. Play in the dirt, you get dirty.

    Also a little puzzling is how a guy doesn’t get fired for driving 1,000 miles off route; he wasn’t even an employee for 90 days.

    Cynic that I am, I’m betting this DEA excursion was paid for with lobby money from JB Hunt and Schneider.

    1. It’s a tragedy every time someone dies unnecessarily over selling or transporting a substance that should be legal and should have a healthy market infrastructure with peacefully competing companies meeting consumer demand.

    2. Also a little puzzling is how a guy doesn’t get fired for driving 1,000 miles off route; he wasn’t even an employee for 90 days.

      My assumption was that they hadn’t checked until after this whole fiasco happened.

    3. Also a little puzzling is how a guy doesn’t get fired for driving 1,000 miles off route;

      My guess is that the freight he was supposed to be hauling during that time got delivered on time, as in someone else delivered it. Meaning that the DEA conspiracy is deeper than reported here.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.