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.