More than a year after police raided an Alabama couple's house, upturned their lives, and seized thousands of dollars from them over a small amount of marijuana, the criminal charges against them have been dropped.
On Monday, an Alabama state circuit judge dismissed the misdemeanor drug charges against Greg and Teresa Almond at the request of prosecutors and ordered that their property be returned to them.
As Reason reported last week, the Almonds filed a federal civil rights lawsuit earlier this year against the Randolph County Sheriff's Department, alleging that in January of 2018, the sheriff's narcotics unit busted down their door, threw a flashbang grenade at Greg Almond's feet, detained the couple at gunpoint, and ransacked their house.
The search only turned up $50 or less of marijuana, which the Almonds' adult son tried in vain to claim as his, and a single sleeping pill outside of a prescription bottle with Greg's name on it. The Almonds were arrested and charged with misdemeanor drug possession for personal use. However, deputies also seized roughly $8,000 in cash, along with dozens of firearms and other valuables, using civil asset forfeiture, a practice that allows police to seize property suspected of being connected to criminal activity.
The arrest came at the same time that the Almonds were trying to refinance the loans they had taken out to start a chicken farm, and as a result, they say they missed a crucial bank deadline, resulting in their house being foreclosed upon. They now live in a utility shed.
The Almonds' suit claims the Randolph County Sheriff's Department used excessive force; stole, lost, or failed to inventory their missing property; and violated their constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as their right to due process.
The Alabama legislature is currently considering a bill that would essentially abolish civil asset forfeiture by requiring a criminal conviction before property could be forfeited by police. It would join four other states that have passed similar laws in response to bipartisan outrage over civil forfeiture abuses.
Leah Nelson, a researcher at Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice who first wrote about the Almonds' case, says that while it would be a good start, the root of the problem is Alabama's punitive marijuana enforcement.
"The judge did the right thing in dismissing the charges against the Almonds and ordering their property returned, but the reality is they can never be made whole again," Nelson says. "The decision to jail Greg and Teresa over $50 worth of marijuana and a Lunesta pill cost them their house. The raid and its consequences ruined their small business and Teresa's health. Ending civil asset forfeiture is a critical first step, but to really stop the kind of senseless damage the Almonds sustained, Alabama needs to rethink its War on Marijuana."
The Randolph County Sheriff's Department declined to comment on the dismissal of criminal charges against the Almonds. The Randolph County assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case did not immediately return a request for comment.