More Glimpses of Washington, D.C.'s Civil Forfeiture Nightmare
Washington, D.C. resident Jerrie Brathwaite had her car seized by the city's Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in January 2012. She wasn't in the car at the time and has not been charged with any crime. Yet under the district's asset-forfeiture rules, the single mother of three may never get her property back.
Brathwaite isn't alone in her experience or her frustration. Here are some other notable MPD asset forfeiture cases:
- The MPD seized Frederick Simms' car in May 2011 after alleging he had a gun in it. A jury found him innocent of all charges in December 2011. That same day Simms, who was legally indigent and represented by a public defender at his criminal trial, went to a police impound lot where he was informed he had to pay $1,200—not to get his car back, but to start a civil forfeiture trial. Simms still had to make his $360 a month car payment or the MPD would have turned the car over to the lender. He got his car back in July 2012 after pro bono attorneys helped him secure a preliminary injunction.
- In September, a U.S. District Court judge certified a class action case against the city brought by property owners who say the city never gave them notice that their property was being seized. Police seized $127 of payroll money from Anthony Hardy, the lead plaintiff, after they discovered narcotics in his trunk in September 2006. The District said it notified him via certified mail in October 2007, but produced a receipt from the postal service saying a package was delivered in July 2008—to a different address.
- The MPD arrested Keith Chung, a firefighter studying to become a paramedic, after they allegedly found a firearm on a passenger in his car in June 2012. Without his car, he had to lug 100 pounds of firefighting equipment onto public transportation and get up two hours earlier than usual to get to his shifts on time. Chung, who supports his grandmother and disabled mother, is the main source of income for his family. Police released the car in July 2012 after pro bono attorneys filed for a preliminary injunction. He was never charged with a crime.
- In April 2012, the MPD seized Sharlene Powell's car. She was not in the car. Her son was driving and police claimed to find a small amount of PCP on him, but he was never charged. Powell, a retired Postal Service worker living in North Carolina, is disabled and cannot use public transportation. Police released the car in July 2012 after pro bono attorneys filed for a preliminary injunction.
- Nelly Moreira works 60 hours a week as a cleaning lady at Trinity University and the Treasury Department. She was not in her car when the MPD seized it in March 2012. Her son, who was driving, allegedly had a firearm on him. After months of phone calls to the MPD, she received a letter telling her to pay a $1,020 bond for the opportunity to contest the seizure. It did not inform her that she could apply for a waiver. She paid the bond, and as a result, missed a car payment. Police released the car in July 2012 after pro bono attorneys filed for a preliminary injunction.