For additional background, see the recent series of articles about forfeiture in the Washington Post.
From the Associated Press:
KING CITY, Calif. — A California farming town was grappling Wednesday with a profound violation of trust after learning the acting police chief and a handful of officers were charged with selling or giving away the impounded cars of poor Hispanic residents and other crimes.
The misgivings had been building for some time. Investigators heard people — many unable to speak English — complain that police were taking their cars and money, and there was nothing they could do about it….
Tuesday’s arrests, which also included a former police chief, came after a six-month probe of the police department launched in September when a visiting investigator — there to check out a homicide — heard from numerous sources that the community didn’t trust its police department. By this week, authorities said they had enough evidence to arrest a total of six people linked to the department for a variety of crimes ranging from bribery to making criminal threats.
For additional information, go here.
From NewsChannel 5:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — There was stunning testimony Wednesday before a state Senate committee as a local drug task force found itself facing tough questions.
The director of the 23rd Judicial District Drug Task Force responded to those questions — about whether his agency was “policing for profit” — with new claims that agents are really taking money out of the hands of terrorists.
While there’s absolutely no evidence that the terrorism claim is true, the task force director ended up inadvertently conceding that interstate interdiction units do indeed have a profit motive.
“You said if the money is not there they could potentially lose their jobs or they could potentially lose those bonuses,” observed Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, toward the end of the hearing.
Hmm. It is a very, very bad idea to set up a situation where police officers must find their next rent check or mortgage payment (or aspiring for a better personal vehicle or boat or whatever) by hunting for violations.
For more on the abuse of civil asset forfeiture laws, go here.
The current issue of the New Yorker looks at civil asset forfeiture laws around the USA.
Here is an excerpt:
Over the past year, I spoke with more than a hundred police officers, defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges, and forfeiture plaintiffs from across the country. Many expressed concern that state laws designed to go after high-flying crime lords are routinely targeting the workaday homes, cars, cash savings, and other belongings of innocent people who are never charged with a crime….
In West Philadelphia last August, an elderly couple named Mary and Leon Adams were finishing breakfast when several vans filled with heavily armed police pulled up to their red brick home. An officer announced, “We’ll give you ten minutes to get your things and vacate the property.” The men surrounding their home had been authorized to enter, seize, and seal the premises, without any prior notice.
“I was almost numb,” Mary Adams, a sixty-eight-year-old grandmother with warm brown eyes and wavy russet hair, recalled. When I visited her this spring, she sat beside her seventy-year-old husband, who was being treated for pancreatic cancer, and was slumped with exhaustion….
Around 5 p.m. on July 19th, Leon, Sr., was in his bedroom recovering from surgery when he was startled by a loud noise. “I thought the house was blowing up,” he recalls. The police “had some sort of big, long club and four guys hit the door with it, and knocked the whole door right down.” swat-team officers in riot gear were raiding his home. One of the officers placed Leon, Jr., in handcuffs and said, “Apologize to your father for what you’ve done.” Leon, Jr., was taken off to jail, where he remains, awaiting trial.
The police returned about a month after the raid. Owing to the allegations against Leon, Jr., the state was now seeking to take the Adamses’ home and to sell it at a biannual city auction, with the proceeds split between the district attorney’s office and the police department. All of this could occur even if Leon, Jr., was acquitted in criminal court; in fact, the process could be completed even before he stood trial.
Read the whole thing.
Jerrie Brathwaite was not in her car when Washington, D.C. police seized it in January 2012. She had lent her 2000 Nissan Maxima to a friend, and that friend was pulled over, searched, and found to be in possession of drugs. A year later, Braithwaite—who has never been charged with a crime—still doesn’t have her car back, and no one from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) will return her calls. …
In theory, the government uses asset forfeiture to strip criminal enterprises of resources and “toys”—the cars, planes, boats, and homes that make the illicit life look glamorous. But a glance at the legal notices the department publishes periodically in The Washington Times reveals the city is hardly targeting kingpins. A notice from last September lists these cars: a 1985 Chevrolet, a 1994 BMW, a 1999 Lincoln, a 1994 Lexus, a 1991 Honda, and a 2001 Chevrolet. Most seizures are of cash—generally less than $100 and as little as $7—taken from thousands of people each year.
“Many of these clients don’t have money, don’t have assets, some are innocent,” says criminal defense lawyer Henry Escoto, who is pursuing a class-action lawsuit against the city. “Many times just because police arrest somebody for possession of a controlled substance doesn’t necessarily mean that the money they have on them came from illegal proceeds. It could be many of these guys have jobs and get caught with rent money or their paycheck. That’s pretty significant.”
By law, the MPD must notify property owners of their constitutional right to challenge a forfeiture, but it recently emerged in court that up to 2,000 of the 3,000 property owners who had property seized in 2009 may not have received notice.
H/T: Instapundit. For additional background, go here.
From the Philadelphia City Paper:
The size of Philly’s forfeiture program isn’t just unprecedented within Pennsylvania. In 2010, for example, Kings County (Brooklyn), with a population 1.5 times that of Philadelphia, reported taking by forfeiture about $1.2 million in assets — less than one-fifth of what Philly took. Los Angeles County, with a population more than six-and-a-half times Philadelphia’s, also successfully sued to keep just $1.2 million in seized assets.
Those numbers aren’t direct comparisons: They don’t include sums collected via a federal “equitable sharing” program in which forfeitures are outsourced to federal agencies, with local law enforcement keeping most of the proceeds. But these programs also contain certain safeguards not present in Philly: Namely, federal guidelines stipulate a minimum amount for seizure of $2,000.
Philadelphia’s civil forfeiture unit, by contrast, amasses its impressive annual take by itself pursuing thousands of vastly smaller cases — and many, many more of them.
In 2010, for example, Los Angeles County’s 48 successful forfeiture cases raised about $25,000 per case. In the same year, the Philadelphia District Attorney filed more than 8,000 forfeiture cases for currency alone, for an average of just $550. In a sample of more than 100 cases from 2011 and 2012 reviewed by City Paper, the median amount was only $178. In many of these cases, the Philadelphia District Attorney sued to seize amounts less than $100.
The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, in other words, isn’t just one of the most lucrative municipal forfeiture units around; it also might be the pettiest.
Read the whole thing.
For additional background, go here.