Police Officers or Thugs?

Forget those Somali pirates, looks like the Texas town of Tenha has its own land based pirates who practice their trade under the color of law,

Law enforcement authorities in this East Texas town of 1,000 people seized property from at least 140 motorists between 2006 and 2008, and, to date, filed criminal charges against fewer than half, according to a review of court documents by the San Antonio Express-News.

Virtually anything of value was up for grabs: cash, cell phones, personal jewelry, a pair of sneakers, and often, the very car that was being driven through town.

[…]

Linda Dorman, an Akron, Ohio, great-grandmother had $4,000 in cash taken from her by local authorities when she was stopped while driving through town after visiting Houston in April 2007. Court records make no mention that anything illegal was found in her van. She’s still hoping for the return of what she calls “her life savings.”

Dorman’s attorney, David Guillory, calls the roadside stops and seizures in Tenaha “highway piracy,” undertaken by a couple of law enforcement officers whose agencies get to keep most of what was seized.

[…]

Guillory alleges in the lawsuit that while his clients were detained, they were presented with an ultimatum: waive your rights to your property in exchange for a promise to be released and not be criminally charged.

He said most did as Dorman did, signing the waiver to avoid jail.

The state’s asset seizure law doesn’t require that law enforcement agencies file criminal charges in civil forfeiture cases. It requires only a preponderance of evidence that the property was used in the commission of certain crimes, such as drug crimes, or bought with proceeds of those crimes.

That’s a lesser burden than is required in a criminal case. And it allows police departments and prosecutors to divvy up what they get from such seizures — what critics say is a built-in incentive for unscrupulous, underfinanced law enforcement agencies to illegally strip motorists of their property.

[…]

In 2008, three years after stripping a man of $10,032 in cash as he drove south along U.S. 281 to buy a headstone for his dying aunt, Jim Wells County officials returned the man’s money — and the county then paid him $110,000 in damages as part of a settlement. Attorney Malcolm Greenstein said criminal charges never were filed against his client, Javier Gonzalez, nor any of the dozens of people whose records he reviewed. People were given the option of going to jail or signing a waiver, Greenstein said. Like Gonzalez, most signed the waiver.

[…]

Tenaha Mayor George Bowers, 80, defended the seizures, saying they allowed a cash-poor city the means to add a second police car in a two-policeman town and help pay for a new police station.

“It’s always helpful to have any kind of income to expand your police force,” Bowers said.

As Radley Balko notes, yes it is nice to have extra income even when you have to steal it at gunpoint. If private citizens were to do this they’d be arrested, charged, and locked up for years maybe decades. These “cops” instead probably got pay raises and other benefits. Truly despicable behavior.

FILED UNDER: Government, Law and the Courts,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.

Comments

  1. tom p says:

    “Move along, move along… nothing happening here…”

  2. Drew says:

    At least they didn’t wire tap a terrorist’s phone calls. That would have the entire body of the press howling………..

  3. William d'Inger says:

    This was originally an anti-drug measure. Since budgets are forever tight, someone dreamed up the idea of letting police departments keep the property seized during drug raids, etc. It helped relieve politicians the burden of funding law enforcement, and it gave the police incentive to step up the war on drugs.

    I knew it was a bad idea the very first time I heard of it. Free money is always a source of corruption. Nobody should be surprised.

    It is my opinion that only the courts should be allowed to determine if seized property should be forfeit, and the courts should not themselves get any of that money directly.

  4. Wayne says:

    Generally I a big law enforcement supporter but there are times when I’m not, this case being one of them. Also I’m very against quotas. Speed, DUI traps or nitpicking situations so they can write tickets to fill quotas in order to raise money is wrong. There is a difference between enforcing laws for public safety and for raising money. One solution would be for all local fines to be pool in a state fund then distributed evenly throughout the state per population to county and city governments. State and Highway patrol’s fines can be sent to this fund as well.

    The big difference between the above stories and (quotas or stoplight cameras) is the above story doesn’t leave you with a criminal record or go against your insurance.

  5. Steve Verdon says:

    Generally I a big law enforcement supporter but there are times when I’m not, this case being one of them.

    So was I. Then I started reading Radley Balko’s blog and that changed…surprisingly quickly. Of course, I love dogs.

  6. fredw says:

    Something like 80% of all 100 bills in circulation have traces of cocaine on them. The statistic is lower for smaller bills but not by much. All that is required to “arrest” the money with no recourse to the holder of the money is for a dog to indicate the presence of traces of drugs. Effectively, you can be stopped at any time by law enforcement and have your cash “arrested”. Arrested is the proper term. The money is arrested so you have no standing to claim it back; it was no seized without due process, it was arrested.

    These are laws passed to fight the war on drugs. The city of Tenha is just protecting us. Don’t you feel safer? If you think abuse of drug laws is bad, just wait until the abuses of the patriot act really kick in 5 or 10 years from now.

    That Javier Gonzalez got his money back is astonishing. I have never heard of money being returned in any seizure anywhere ( it happens outside of Texas too). Maybe these guys skip the drug sniffing dog and go right to seizure.

  7. anjin-san says:

    At least they didn’t wire tap a terrorist’s phone calls.

    Pretty lame, even by your standards.

    No one has a problem with wiretapping terrorists.

    Bush having the NSA spy on everyone in the country is another matter entirely.

  8. William d'Inger says:

    No one has a problem with wiretapping terrorists.

    Bush having the NSA spy on everyone in the country is another matter entirely.

    Say WHAT???

    Anjin, ol’ buddy, it’s Tuesday night. You’re supposed to save the premium colitas for the weekends (unless of course that’s part of Obama’s stimulus plan you’re smoking).

  9. anjin-san says:

    William – ignorance is not bliss:

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2006-05-10-nsa_x.htm

    http://online.wsj.com/public/article_print/SB120511973377523845.html

    This will get you started, unless you just want to stay in your little bushie fantasy world.

  10. JKB says:

    It is refreshing to see the mayor not try to paper over these actions. They are revenue generation and he isn’t going to call it law enforcement.

    Stealing from the outsiders is a time honored tradition in small towns, be it speed traps or the more lucrative seizures. Seizures are an effective tool in law enforcement but like anything it can be abused especially when the cops, mayor and county legal establishment are onboard with the thefts.

  11. William d'Inger says:

    … unless you just want to stay in your little bushie fantasy world.

    This thread is about police seizing (read: stealing) private property under the guise of law enforcement. I can only assume you approve of official theft since all you had to offer was Democrat, anti-Bush demagoguery on another subject.

  12. anjin-san says:

    This thread is about police seizing (read: stealing) private property under the guise of law enforcement.

    Read the whole thread. Another poster went off topic and I responded. What a good little bushie you are. People should only discuss what they are told to discuss…

    I can only assume you approve of official theft

    Well, with the brainpower you have showed us so far, its hardly a surprise that your assumptions are utter nonsense.