Civil Asset Forfeiture

Cops Seize Man's Property, Freeze Bank Accounts—And He Wishes They Would Charge Him with a Crime


Mackinac Center / Youtube

Wally Kowalski, an engineer living in a farmhouse in rural southwest Michigan, came home one day last September to find his property swarming with cops. They told him that they had spotted his marijuana plants from a helicopter. Kowalski has a license to grow and distribute medical pot to several low-income people who depend on the drug. He grows the plants in a garden area enclosed by a barbed wire fence.

But whether or not Kowalski had a legal right to grow mattered little to the state police, who seized his power generator—even though it had nothing to do with his marijuana plants—and some expensive equipment. They also destroyed the plants.

Kowalski told the Mackinac Center for Public Policy that they grabbed anything likely to be sold at a police auction. He said they were positively giddy after searching his house and finding his financial papers:

"When they found my bank accounts here in my office, they let out a yell. They said, 'Here's the bank accounts, we got him.' It's like the happiest thing for them, to find my bank accounts."

The police froze his accounts, rendering him unable to make payments on his student loans or other bills. And he could no longer complete the immigration process for his wife, a resident of Africa.

The authorities haven't charged Kowalski with a crime. They didn't even confiscate his marijuana license—probably because it has no auction value. He wishes they would—at least then he could defend himself in court, in front of a judge or jury. As things stand, he's unsure what he's supposed to do to convince the police to give him back his property.

After the Mackinac Center drew publicity to the case, the state unfroze Kowalski's assets. But his property is still in police custody.

Thomas Williams, another southwest Michigan resident, suffered a similar ordeal. His medical marijuana activities prompted police to ransack his property while they left him handcuffed for 10 hours. The cops took his car, phone, TV, and cash. Afterward, he had no means of getting to the grocery store or even contacting another human being for days. Like Kowalski, he hasn't been charged with a crime.

That was over a year ago. The police still have his stuff.

The Mackinac Center interviewed both men for a video spotlighting the abuses of police forfeiture. Watch that below. [Edit: The video has been fixed and will now play properly.] Read more from Reason on the subject here.

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  1. Don’t worry guys, there’s hundreds of police officers like Dunphy out there right now, speaking truth to power and telling them that what they’re doing is immoral.

    1. Yep, and those hundreds make up 0.0001% of all the police officers out there.

  2. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ??????

    1. Be careful who you tell, anonbot. They’ll be coming to seize all your cash next.

      1. I wish they’d just seize anonbot…

  3. Of all the police abuses that Reason highlights, for some reason armed robbery asset forfeiture makes me the angriest.

    1. Me too, I don’t know why. Maybe its just the absurdity of naming inanimate objects as a defendant. I don’t know how the people in such cases can go through the whole ritual with a straight face.

    2. Well, let’s face it, it’s the one where there’s not even a pretense that they’re doing right. In a lot of the abuse cases, they can claim self-defense or “a terrible accident” or “just a few bad apples”. The asset forfeiture cases are different. They’re premeditated, systematic, and indifferent to the victim.

    3. I’m the same. I think it has to do with the absurd lack of justification in nearly all of the cases.

      It seems completely indefensible to me, that police (government), can seize personal property, without any actual crime proven to have occurred. Even in cases where they charge someone with a serious crime, forfeiture of assets should hinge on being proven guilty in a court of law. And then, only for property conclusively shown to be directly gained in an unlawful manor.

      1. Given that the basic reason we pay for police is to protect our persons and property from exactly this kind of theft and abuse.

    4. Likewise. For me it’s the whole King’s Men mentality. They gleefully take whatever they like whenever they like, and if you don’t recognize their inherent authority to steal your stuff, you get hurt.

      And a gang of thieves who’ll rob you in broad daylight will also do anything else they think they can get away with.

      1. How long before King’s Men decide they can take your women if they feel like it?

        1. Take my wife, please.

    5. If this is “you being angry,” then you’ve just sent a minor communication to the police state: “Keep doing what you’re doing, noone’s willing to use the force you’re willing to use.”

      That’s the message the freedom movement has sent the police state, loud and clear. LOL! Silence, loud and clear!

      Are there any laws left when this can happen? Nope! Keep sending your money to the LNC, so they can fuck over everyone who’s worked for them in a grassroots capacity for more than 5 years. That’s about how long it takes most traveling activists to learn how to win elections.

      So what? You and what army? None. The freedom movement that could have existed does not exist, because those who could lead it don’t care enough to lead, but they also don’t want to get out of the way. That’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

      Ask a L/libertarian what office he’s running for:
      If it’s above “State Legislature,” he’s delusional. If it’s an insignificant local election, he’s delusional.

      Ask a L/libertarian how many votes the incumbent received, and how many votes were cast total, how many his opponent received:
      If he cannot tell you, he’s delusional.

      The Libertarian Party runs the people who should be winning state legislative seats for governor.

  4. I really would like to know how this is not depriving you of property without due process. Literally what the 5th amendment says.

    Looking for a real answer, and why this hasn’t gone to the Supreme Court Yet, not just FYTW

    1. I was wondering the same thing. Not only should the property be returned, but the guys who are violating the Constitution should face some consequences.

      I know, I know…a man can dream.

    2. My guess is that the state gives the people who fight this their stuff back so they then have no standing. Most people don’t even fight it.

    3. The legal theory is that this sort of procedure is due process?for the property. And since it existed at the time of the 5th amendment, it’s presumed to be OK.

      1. In addition, it’s based on in rem jurisdiction, which is the legal fiction that the property is the defendant. It has gone to the SCOTUS, with disastrous results.

        1. It has gone to the SCOTUS,

          By “it” I mean asset forfeiture in general, not this case.

        2. I don’t see how that makes it any less a seizure of someone’s property. And it is just absurd.

    4. The property is YOURS, not someone else’s. Under that logic you should have no due process to your property at all, and the constitution should just read “life, liberty, & FYTW”

      1. They argue the property is itself’s (so that book on your nightstand owns itself). It’s fucking ridiculous.

        1. How that can be reconciled with the 4th amendment’s reference to “their persons, houses, papers, and effects” or the 3rd ammendment’s reference to a house’s owner is beyond me.

          1. You can quit applying rigorous logic to the system at any time. It’s not like the FYTW clause won’t just rear it’s ugly head.

            Wickard v. Filburn
            Korematsu v. United States
            United States v. Miller (1939)
            Dred Scott v. Sandford
            Plessy v. Ferguson

            …ad nauseum.

            1. GONZALES V. RAICH
              FRANCIS L. YOUNG Docket No. 86-22

        2. The book owns itself. The book committed the crime. So the book has agency?

          Cool. Guns can be charged with murder and no one will have to go to jail!

          1. Hey, maybe it will keep the gun grabbers busy.

        3. No, they don’t deny that it’s owned by someone, it’s just that the sovereign’s need to punish or restrain the property may engender certain side effects that supersede the owner’s interest. But what I don’t get is how after it passes thru the sovereign’s hands, the guilt in the item is expiated, so that it may be auctioned & owned again rather than having to be destroyed or made unusable.

      2. what the fuck is the FYTW clause? Would you assholes stop using acronyms s though everyone’s supposed to already know them?

        IOW, BTW, and AFAIK is about all that’s plainly obvious and most people know about.

        1. Fuck you, that’s why.

          1. Before you get offended, that’s what it means, I’m not telling you to fuck off.

        2. QFWWY

          1. SBFR

    5. If you bring up the constitution to anyone in law enforcement or the criminal courts, they’ll accuse you of being a liberal ACLU’er & accuse you of hiding things – since you know only criminals care about rights.

  5. Wally Kowalski, an engineer living in a farmhouse in rural southwest Michigan

    The Walt Kowalski I know wouldn’t have stood for this.

    1. Get off my lawn!

  6. “As things stand, he’s unsure what he’s supposed to do to convince the police to give him back his property.”

    Are you trying to be funny Soave?

    The way you convince a thief to give back property and stop stealing is to punish them severely. The offices involved in these crimes and the individuals who perpetrated them must be punished.

    Why cannot both entities be sued? No FYTW answers. Maybe someone could take a stab at the old ‘they are charging the property not the person’ argument in a way that doesn’t sound like an magical gobbledygook.

    1. Picking from the thread….

      ” this sort of procedure is due process?for the property. And since it existed at the time of the 5th amendment, it’s presumed to be OK.”

      What procedure? Cops show up and take stuff? They inventory what they have stolen and that is due process? Existed at the time of the 5th A meaning what? King George was engaging in it so the 5th was written to put a stop to it?

      “…the property is charged..”

      It is? Where are the charges filed? Who files them? Who represents the property?

      I am not accusing y’all of course, you are just repeating the bullshit explanations, but that is exactly the kind of magical gobbledygook I was talking about. They are non-explanations, just iterations of FYTW.

      1. I agree, I never understood why being mental ill is some sort of excuse.

        I believe according to Eric ChokeHolder, yes. Due process doesn’t mean a day in court, it means a guy named Bob read over your paperwork and made a decision.

      2. But what the US Sup. Ct. has determined is that the loss to the property owner not exceed what the fine would be if not to be “excessive”, i.e. disproportionate to the offense. So presumably the authority that winds up condemning the thing would have to remit to the owner the difference, keeping for itself no more than the owner could be fined if the owner were judged in violation.

  7. If Charles Bronson was still around, this would make a good remake of Mr. Majestyk: Small time pot grower, whose herbs helps some sympathetic cancer patients, has his property stolen by the local thug police.

    1. Yes, it certainly would. No kidding.

      I am sure the statist assholes in hollywood will get right on that. Before shooting gets started the IRS will be all over the movie company and the WH staff that guided the making of Zero Dark Thirty will be handing them a new script.

  8. Just to nit-pick, “a resident of Africa”? Would you describe yourself as “a resident of North America”?

    Is she from Liberia or Sierra Leone, so you didn’t want to start an Ebola thread?

    1. It’s not too unusual to hear someone say that they are from Europe, rather than specifying the country. But Africa is an awfully big and diverse place.

      1. There are 47 countries in Africa. I imagine that if he said the specific country, most people would say “Where is that?” so he just says Africa.

        Remember that Americans learn geography by going to war. Being that we haven’t gone to war in Africa, very few Americans could connect many African countries with the continent.

        1. How dare you make such shameful unfounded accusations! Of course we have gone to war in Africa!

          1. “From the halls of Montezuma,
            To the shores of Tripoli!”

        2. – “Being that we haven’t gone to war in Africa…”

          That would come as a real surprise to the ghosts of George Patton.

          1. …and Erwin Rommel (that magnificent bastard.)

  9. Craiginmass will tell you that libertarians are the true authoritarians for opposing this sort of thing.

    1. He is not the only one. I bet Tony shoots in his pants every time he sees one of these stories.

    2. I’m sure there are trolls who will say that. But this seems like a thing that most people would find awful and absurd. But also a thing that most people will assume won’t happen to them and quickly forget about.

  10. This is pretty simple. If these guys are legally allowed to grow marijuana and have complied with all state and local regulations, the State Police are engaging in nothing more than Smash and grab robberies and should he charged, tried and thrown in prison. It’s that simple.

    1. I’d agree completely, if this wasn’t accepted law of the land. It’s completely ridiculous, and I’d refuse to participate, were I a cop. I just can’t quite jump to punishing the individuals, when it’s the system that’s broken.

      1. So the system would be the defendant? That’s poetic…

        People set up ‘broken’ systems on purpose, so they can commit their abuses. You have to punish the people who set it up, or if they’re not available (such as if they’re long dead because it’s an old system) then you punish the ones currently taking advantage of it. That may not be the minions who are physically sent to grab the property, but it is someone, somewhere.

      2. I think that argument only holds even the slightest bit of water for federal police, though. If it’s a state law and a state permit saying it’s all OK, the state police should be powerless here, other than the straight up FYTW clause.

  11. Scalia was half right: The cops have managed to raise common theft to a level of professionalism.

  12. It has gone to the SCOTUS, with disastrous results.

    Why does this not surprise me?

    It’s gangsterism, plain and simple. We could say it’s unconscionable, but prosecutors have neither conscience nor soul.

    1. And neither does the Nazgul.

    2. It’s Banana Republic shit reminiscent of Sulla’s proscriptions in ancient Rome.

  13. I don’t know how these guys are not insane with rage. I know what my fate would be if anything like this happened to myself.

    1. Yep – I would be portrayed as the biggest villain in state history in my obituary.

      1. It is likely the culprits screen out those who will resist, either physically or legally.
        Most predators go for the easy marks, rather than those who inflict counter-harm.

  14. It’s Nutpunch Wednesday, is it?

  15. Modern day pigs are nothing more than 14th Century brigands running around the countryside during the 100 years war. If there is a difference, it is one of quantity, not kind.

  16. How many other countries in the world are the police allowed to do stuff like this? And I don’t mean illegally doing it and then just getting away with it. I mean legally doing it right in broad daylight and with the state’s approval, like they are doing here?

    1. Well, there’s Zimbabwe.

      Bob Mugabe had cops toss White farmers off their land without compensation – for being White.

      So that’s one.

    2. It’s allowed wherever the legal system is based on common law. I’d be surprised if most other legal systems didn’t have equivalent provisions.

      Look it up under discussions of in rem proceedings, libels (at admiralty), seizures, and condemnations.

  17. We’d all be better off if the police focused on crimes that have actual victims!

    Does anyone honestly believe that wasting $20 Billion and arresting 3/4 Million Americans annually for choosing a substance Scientifically proven to be safer than what the govt allows, is a sound policy?

    This is just legalized theft.

    1. 40 Billion

      About half the money spent on food stamps for the entire country.

  18. Hate to say it like this but much of the blame for this lies with the population at large who allow it to continue.
    Because many people are too lazy to do anything about governmental abuses and the public officials who set the policies this is allowed to continue.

    Question – how many of you Reason readers have even attended a city council meeting, went to your local city councilman /mayors office to express your concerns or even read the local community paper? Probably not many. I would venture to say that the non- readers of this site are even less likely.

    If you want to change things you have to do more than just vote. You have to go and get your voice heard otherwise the local politicians and police administrators will continue to do the same thing whether it violates the Constitution or not. Bitching on Reason does nothing.Participating in the local government does.

    1. Not all of us are statists. Some of us find participating in an institution of theft and violence to be against our moral code.

      So why not participate in the system (vote, speak at city coincil meetings, write letters to politicians, petition, etc…) to make it less evil? Because some of us believe the state is inherently evil. The state isn’t something that became bad- it always was bad.

      Working through the state, at the very least, lwgitimizes it. Like a well armed gang of street thugs, I hope to avoid and circumvent the state at all costs- not go running to it for solutions.

      1. Kubel
        then you are an anarchist not a libertarian and ENTIRELY ON THE WRONG SITE.

        Libertarians are not anti government rather they believe in appropriate government carefully controlled by the citizens of the country.
        If you truly believe that “government is evil” move to a place like Somalia where there is no government and see how well you rights to life, liberty and property are preserved. I would venture to state that you would probability not last a day before you would lose all of your possessions and your life.

        Government is necessary and not participating is absolutely stupid. Will we all get what we want – no. But like life it is a process and a progression toward a more perfect society.

        Another great quote is ” all that is required for evil to grow is for good men to do nothing” You propose we do nothing because you say the institution is evil. I say it is corrupt because people(like you) are either too lazy or stupid to participate to keep it from becoming evil.

        1. I’m not an anarchist, but you are an idiot who is thoroughly wrong.

          Also, want to know how I know you aren’t actually a libertarian:

          But like life it is a process and a progression toward a more perfect society.

          That’s how.

          You propose we do nothing because you say the institution is evil.

          That’s not what he proposed you disingenuous twatwaffle.

          He simply stated that he would not participate in an institution he views as irredeemably corrupt, not that he was inactive. Working to overthrow and subvert corrupt government are both “somethings.”

          You are pretty clearly a Coulter Republican, NOT a libertarian.

          1. Oh, and shit, how could have I missed this gem of concentrated, compressed fucktardedness:

            If you truly believe that “government is evil” move to a place like Somalia where there is no government and see how well you rights to life, liberty and property are preserved. I would venture to state that you would probability not last a day before you would lose all of your possessions and your life.

            So, in closing, please fuck off and die in a fire.

      2. JeffreyinSandySprings| Who are you to judge what we do or don’t do? Who are you to lecture us on what to bitch about? And I don’t think many of us need a primer on what a libertarian is.

    2. You must not have heard about the Princeton study that proved America is an oligarchy. The proved, using 20 years of data, that even when as many as 90% of the population opposes a legislative proposal, it will nevertheless pass and become law so long as the wealthy agree with it. The masses only get what they want when it coincides with what the oligarchs want by chance.

      The voting public is powerless to change the system.

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  20. they grabbed anything likely to be sold at a police auction.

    Seems legit.

    As things stand, he’s unsure what he’s supposed to do to convince the police to give him back his property.

    Lawyer up and file suit.

    1. “Lawyer up and file suit.”

      Lawyers expect to be paid, and they stole his money.

      1. You would think there’s an Erin Brokovich type out there who might like to take a case like this.

        1. Yeah, since EB has done all that pro bono work, right?


        My state gets an A-. At least Maine steals your money legally!

  21. Seems like most cops are running on 9 volts. “We got him!” What?

  22. Just as a reminder… I know most folks here understand this to some degree, but there’s always the random idiot who tells us to move to Somolia…

    Somolia is not “libertarian” or anarchist in any way. It is an area (one of many) where several gangs of thieves and murderers compete, usually violently, for control of the area and the people. They each want to be the “government” and will do anything to attain that control. And, once the “rebels” or “freedom fighters” actually take over… welcome to new boss, same as old boss.

    So, rather than having no government, these areas have entirely too much of it. Nothing creates chaos more than government, especially more than one!

    Anarchy= not no rules, no rulers and no slaves. Self government and voluntary association/cooperation is the real definition. Some call this voluntaryism, self ownership, and some still use the word “libertarian.” But libertarian actually means non-aggression, so any amount of non-voluntary government is not compatible with the term.

    1. Thanks for the lecture, Mr. Dictionary editor.

  23. The obvious answer is to put surface to air missiles on your property and take out any helicopters that invade your airspace.

    Hey bro, sorry, my missiles with agency were minding their own business on the ground, isn’t my fault you set off their sensors and they fired a missile at you.

  24. This guy has his assets as well as any money that he’d want to use to defend himself … prior to any charges & in spite of no charges even being filed. Yet Loris Lerner still walks free will millions.

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  29. I think the police has no rights to enter his house and destroy everything. If they have been investigating his “crimes” they mush have had search warrant and entered his house when he was at home. I think that such step is violation of human rights, and he has all rights to go to the court. I hope the society will help him in this case. Also he might need monetary help, that is why he ca contact Online Payday Advance Loan and get quick monetary assistance.

  30. I wish I could say this surprises me but I can’t…living in Berrien County (not that far from Van Buren) I know just how common this sort of thing is.

  31. I’m still in legal limbo as the court hearing got delayed when the police perjured themselves. This is a protest music video I made:
    Dr. Kowalski

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