Cash is king in South Carolina. Law enforcement loves taking it. Under the pretense of dismantling drug syndicates, law enforcement officers are taking money from waitresses, businessmen, and crime victims. Cash motivates law enforcement efforts — dubious drug-focused shakedowns that are often given far too much credibility by local journalists.This is state where county sheriffs run week-long events with cool names like “Rolling Thunder” and claim they’re disrupting the flow of drugs. The reality is there’s no disruption. People are separated from their cash and other property, but arrests and convictions are almost impossible to find, despite the discovery of a few hundred pounds of illegal substances. In 2017, the Spartansburg County Sheriff’s Department pulled over more than 1,100 vehicles during an operation, searched 158 of them, recovered enough drugs to fill a table for a press conference, but only ended up with eight felony convictions. It did end up with $139,000 in cash, which was the actual focus of the “drug interdiction” activity.The cases gathered from elsewhere in the state tell the same story: cash-hungry law enforcement agencies taking money from people and calling it a victory in the War on Drugs. African-Americans make up only 13 percent of the state’s population, but 65 percent of asset forfeiture cases target African Americans. If you’re white, you’re not only targeted less frequently but you’re twice as likely to get your property returned to you.
If Wells Fargo account reps can’t sign people up for accounts without their knowledge or permission, why should they even show up to help people open accounts or deal with banking issues? If an entrepreneur can’t rope investors into a pyramid scheme, why even bother getting out of bed at 4 am to bathe in the glow of inflated self-worth? Come on, Bruder. How can you be so obtuse?
Jarrod Bruder, the executive director of the South Carolina Sheriff’s Association who frequently lobbies for law enforcement interests at the Statehouse, said that without the incentive of profit from civil forfeiture, officers probably wouldn’t pursue drug dealers and their cash as hard as they do now.If police don’t get to keep the money from forfeiture, “what is the incentive to go out and make a special effort?” Bruder said. “What is the incentive for interdiction?”
That conflict [of interest] is on full display in Richland, Miss., where construction of a new $4.1 million law enforcement training facility was funded entirely by forfeiture proceeds garnered by police in Richland—a town of just 7,000 people. A sign in the building’s window boasts: “Richland Police Station tearfully donated by drug dealers.”
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments recently in a case that may result in some involuntary reforms to state civil asset forfeiture laws. The case involves Tyson Timbs, an Indiana resident who had his $42,000 Land Rover seized by law enforcement after selling $260 worth of heroin to undercover cops.Despite securing a conviction, law enforcement chose to forfeit Timbs’ vehicle in civil court. This may have been to keep Timbs from challenging the seizure as excessive, given the crime he was charged with maxxed out at a $10,000 fine. This is how Timbs is challenging this forfeiture, however. That’s how this case has ended up in the top court in the land.
Police in the Dutch city of Rotterdam have launched a new pilot programme which will see them confiscating expensive clothing and jewellery from young people if they look too poor to own them.Officers say the scheme will see them target younger men in designer clothes they seem unlikely to be able to afford legally – if it is not clear how the person paid for it, it will be confiscated.The idea is to deter criminality by sending a signal that the men will not be able to hang onto their ill-gotten gains.
No job too small. That’s asset forfeiture for you. But small jobs are the safest jobs when it comes to the government keeping someone else’s property. Keeping the seizures small makes it less likely they’ll be challenged by those whose property was taken.The year-end totals may look impressive, but behind those totals are lots and lots of tiny cash grabs. In the cases where agencies’ forfeitures have been itemized and examined (which is a rarity — there’s a ton of opacity in forfeiture reporting), the largest number of forfeitures are for the smallest amounts, usually well under $1,000.Officers take what they can because they can. A video going viral on Twitter shows a California police officer rummaging through the wallet of an unlicensed street vendor and taking the vendor’s cash and debit card. A citation and a shutdown of the hot dog stand should have been enough. But it wasn’t. Officer Sean Aranas decided — with the only citation handed out during the football game — to take the man’s earnings.
Pennsylvania has some of the worst civil asset forfeiture laws in the country. At the top of list of perverse incentives? 100% of proceeds go to the agency that seized the property. As a result, all sorts of abusive forfeitures occur. In one case, law enforcement seized a couple’s house because of a single $40 drug sale by their son.
Documents provided by Outside Legal Counsel show the department seized the Ostipow’s 1965 Chevy Nova SS on April 24, 2008, when the vehicle’s mileage was 73,865. [Sheriff William L.] Federspiel, who signed the vehicle title transfer form, sold the partially restored muscle car over a year later on June 4, 2009, for $1,500.The vehicle’s title certificate filled out by Federspiel around the time it was sold says the mileage was 130,000 — 54,000 miles more than when the department seized the car.
According to last year’s lawsuit against the city, Albuquerque forecasts how many vehicles it will not only seize, but sell at auction. The city’s 2016 budget estimates it will have 1,200 vehicle seizure hearings, release 350 vehicles under agreements with the property owners, immobilize 600 vehicles, and to sell 625 vehicles at auction.In fact, the Albuquerque city council approved a $2.5 million bond to build a bigger parking lot for cars seized under the DWI program. The revenue to pay for the bond will come from the DWI program.