Civil Asset Forfeiture

Final Chapter of Cash Seizure Series a Repulsive Accounting of Police Misbehavior


"I sense a 50 percent increase in overtime claims coming."
Credit: West Midlands Police / photo on flickr

On Monday I noted The Washington Post had put together a series of stories offering a deep look at the abuse by law enforcement agencies across the country of civil asset forfeiture laws and how they've been able to line their pockets with citizens' money without ever actually proving said citizens had committed any crime.

The final chapter is, as teased, a collection of terrible stories of American citizens who happen to be transporting cash being stopped by law enforcement officers for relatively minor reasons and conclude with these people having said cash taken away from them. Here's just one of several stories highlighted:

Matt Lee of Clare, Mich., got snared in an interdiction net in 2011 on Interstate 80 in Humboldt County, Nev. Lee was a 31-year-old college graduate who had struggled to find work and had moved back in with his parents to save money. When a friend promised him an entry-level job as a sales rep at a photo studio in California, Lee's father, a postal employee, loaned him $2,500 in cash and Lee drove west in a decade-old Pontiac Bonneville.

On his third day, Lee was passing through the Nevada desert, wearing aviator sunglasses. A sheriff's deputy raced up alongside the Bonneville, stared at Lee and then pulled him over.

Humboldt County Sheriff's Deputy L.A. Dove, a member of the K-9 drug interdiction unit, has received instruction from the 4:20 Group, a contractor for the DEA and one of the leading interdiction trainers in the country.

Dove asked whether Lee was carrying any currency and summoned a K-9 officer. Dove told Lee, who is white, to get out of the car and stand at the edge of the desert, while a dog sniffed for drugs. The deputy told Lee that he didn't believe his story that he was moving to California, because he was carrying so little baggage, Lee told The Post. Lee has no criminal record.

When a search turned up Lee's remaining $2,400 in cash, Dove and his colleague exchanged high-fives, Lee said. Dove said he was taking the money under state law because he was convinced that Lee was involved in a drug run. Lee was left with only the $151 in his pocket.

Lee got an attorney and eventually they agreed to give him his money back. But his attorney ended up taking half in fees.

For other cases, when challenged, officials offer to give the citizen half the money they've taken back if their victim will shut up and go away. Another victim, despite winning his battle and getting all his money back (and forcing the government to pay his legal fees) still ended up screwed over. The seized cash was to be used for costs of operating his small Virginia restaurant. Without the money, he ended up having to shut it down during the course of fighting for his property back.

Read the full story here. That at least nobody got beaten or shot is about the best you can say about the tales.


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  1. But if it saves even ONE child, it’s worth it.

    1. I don’t like hearing that phrase, even sarcastically.

      What kind of sick, twisted training and reinforcement are these cops getting inside the station, from their superiors, that convinces them that stealing money from people (armed robbery) with no evidence is somehow a good thing?

      People want to talk about specific officers, but they’re pawns honestly – these attitudes and disregard for law must be coming from the top down. Period. Until we address that, the efforts to curb this behavior are caught between trying to go after individual cops who will likely never be punished because “follwing procedure”, and even if they are punished/fired, another one will take their place inside the corrput-minded station to take his place.

      1. What makes you think it’s limited to just cops?

  2. Read the full story here. That at least nobody got beaten or shot is about the best you can say about the tales.

    Eh, maybe this weekend. I really don’t have time for a rageurysm right now.

    1. Oh, I can think of at least a few people in those stories I would have been happier to hear had been beaten and shot. Preferably beaten with their own nightsticks and shot with their own sidearms.

  3. Righteous zealots or outright thieves? You decide.

  4. Remember the words of Billy Jack.

    1. “I’m going to put my right foot on the left side of your face and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it”?

      I’m not getting the connection.

      … Hobbit

  5. My in-laws and I went out on a beer run in the Philippines one evening, and got flagged down at a checkpoint by a local cop. He shook us down for some cigarettes and a couple of the beers.

    What a novice that guy was. We’ve perfected third-world style shakedowns.

    1. Our shakedowns are first world.

  6. I can see it now since people can transfer money with cell phones pretty soon the cops will start to ask how much money is in your account and if you have “x” amount they will claim nobody saves that much cash in their account so you must be a drug dealer, now transfer the funds straight into the police account.

  7. When a search turned up Lee’s remaining $2,400 in cash, Dove and his colleague exchanged high-fives, Lee said

    Goddamn criminal pigs.

  8. Yet, those dudes in blue costumes are still employed, despite their robbery.

    Suppose a plumber came to fix your pipes that were leaking. Upon time to pay, you pull out a wad of cash, pay and tip him, and send him on his way. Instead, he doesn’t go on his way and attempts to detain you, and takes the cash because he believes you are a drug dealer. You then proceed to defend yourself. Does anyone think this plumber would remain in business? Would you hire him again? After the incident, and the negative reviews, he’d be out of a job, because no one in their right mind would reward such a “service”.

    How folks support a totalitarian police state is befuddling. Somehow a socialized service where the consumers have no say, and violent “service” is rewarded with medals, or even a desk job, is magically efficient and protects liberty??? This occurs while those hurt, or whose family members were killed are still forced to pay their salaries. To support such an institution, that forces everyone to fund it, and then say they support liberty is ludicrous.

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