Sunday, December 8, 2013

Asset Forfeiture, The Cash Cow of The Drug War


Yesterday's article, "Top 10 Ways the US Is the Most Corrupt Country in the World," may have been a surprise to many, and we enhance the topic with a piece referred to in that article by Lucy Steigerwald at Vice.com, "Asset Forfeiture, The Cash Cow of The Drug War."


The reference was that "Asset forfeiture in the ‘drug war’ is corrupting police departments and the judiciary," and Ms. Steigerwald explains how:

US Marshals make arrest during a 2011 operation targeting gangs in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Officers made 129 arrests and seized nearly $20,000. Photo via Flickr account for the US Marshals
"During a July 9 traffic stop in Meridian, Mississippi, police found $360,000 stashed in a secret compartment in the car. Though that’s perhaps an eyebrow-raising amount of money, readers of that linked article might notice something odd—the driver was let go, but the money was kept by the cops. The unnamed individual may or may not get that cash back, but whether they’re charged with a crime is not necessarily the point. If you have a suspicious amount of cash—sometimes much less than 360 grand—the cops can seize it, and it’s on you to prove that the money isn’t connected to a crime. This is the intersection of civil law’s low burden of proof for prosecutors and criminal law’s aggressive reach. And it’s done a lot to fund bad police policies.

"One example of cops using asset forfeiture aggressively comes from a report by a Fitchburg, Massachusetts, newspaper on local motel owner Russell Caswell, who battled the government for three years over his right to keep his own motel. Authorities made 15 drug busts there between 1994 and 2008, but Caswell was never charged with any crimes. Having successfully managed to keep his property, Caswell now intends to lobby for changes in the civil asset forfeiture laws that brought him dangerously close to losing his livelihood.

"Although state laws regarding asset forfeiture vary, thanks to the practice known as 'equitable sharing' local and state police keep up to 80 percent of the profits from selling off the property they seize from criminals, as long as federal law enforcement is involved in the case, however tangentially. And in civil forfeiture cases, like that of Caswell, the owner of the property’s guilt is not the issue debated—if the property was used for crimes, it can be seized. The Justice Department’s asset forfeiture fund was at $1.8 billion in 2011, and it gave away nearly half a billion dollars to local police departments. If the law changed, a lot of that money would disappear, and we all know how much government agencies cling to money.

"With rewards like that, who wouldn’t prioritize drug crime, when that’s the only kind of investigation that will bring in new patrol cars and help maintain expensive SWAT teams? You could use that money to buy football tickets and home furnishings, as a district attorney in Georgia did. Cops in Pittsburgh bought $10,000 worth of Gatorade, officers in Bal Harbor, Florida, took trips to LA and Vegas and rented luxury cars, and other DAs and police chiefs have bought everything fromtanning salons to booze for parties.

"Such headline-ready corruption sticks out, but those examples aren’t the biggest issue with asset forfeiture laws in the US. The system is an endless feedback loop of drug busts that result in seized property leading to more more funding for fancy cop gear that is used most often for drug busts. These absurd policies that incentivize police to prioritize drug arrests because that's where the money is have got to end.


"Now on to this week’s bad cop stories:

- Authorities haven’t released a lot of detail related to July 10 raids on several homes in Dayton, Ohio, because they say the warrant is sealed. What is known is that the Ohio Organized Crime task force —which included FBI and SWAT officers—raided the wrong house on that day. Three residents who had moved in the week before were cuffed, and an unnamed man reported that he woke up that morning with a gun to his head. They’re waiting for an apology that has yet to arrive.

- On Tuesday, a US Park Police SWAT team raided the Fairfax County, Virginia, home of libertarian activist Adam Kokesh, looking for an unspecified weapon. The charges against Kokesh currently relate only to his possession of ‘shrooms while in possession of a gun, but the catalyst for the raid was clearly a video Kokesh made which appears to show him loading a shotgun near the Capitol on July 4. (Kokesh had previously been planning an armed protest march on DC for that day.) Kokesh’s roommates say the cops used too much force and disorienting flashbang grenades—you’d think that if Kokesh was that crazy and dangerous, the cops would have arrested him on the street, as they have before, rather than engaging in a risky SWAT raid.

- In February 2012, 28-year-old Dustin Theoharis was shot 16 times by cops in Washington state because they thought, wrongly, that he was the parole violator they were looking for. Now, having just finished his 12th surgery, and facing injuries that will affect him for the rest of his life, Theoharis is suing the Washington Department of Corrections for $20 million (King County has offered to settle with him for $3 million). The DOC, for its part, still claims that its officer “used appropriate force and followed the proper procedures in a dangerous situation” while shooting the wrong guy more than a dozen times.

- Former Minneapolis SWAT team leader and police sergeant David Clifford was sentenced to three and a half years in prison Thursday over an April assault on a bar patron that left the other man needing three brain surgeries.

- Michigan police raided a medical marijuana “service center” called Hydro World twice in seven days earlier this month. No charges have been filed against owner Danny Trevino, who said he would fight them if they appear.

- A Crestview, Florida, SWAT team thought it prudent and not at all risky to serve a drug warrant at 3:30 AM on Tuesday, in a house that contained a child. Three people were arrested on meth charges, and the child was removed.

- The NYPD had the self-awareness to blanch over reports from the past few months that one of its cruisers was spotted blaring Darth Vader’s theme from Star Wars.

- Our good Cops of the Week story: In 1970, Angela Basore, then four years old, was rescued from a house fire in Orange County, California, along with her two siblings by police officers Harlan Lambert and Jack Jakobsen. This week Basore finally met and thanked those men in person after contacting them through Facebook. Lambert, who was the first black police officer in Orange County, said he 'cried like a baby' when he saw Basore’s first message. It’s pretty much impossible to snark about that."

A SWAT training session. Photo via Flickr user Joe 13
A preceding article by the same writer, "The Police Can Legally Kick You out of Your Home," tells us some more, and many may link it to the police brutality and the framing of innocents that we've been reading about so often recently, a topic that we may explore in future posts:

"Police officers are accused of violating the First, Second, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments all the time, but even the most ardent civil libertarians tend to forget that the Third Amendment exists. So it’s surprising that a lawsuit filed by a family in Henderson, Nevada, last week alleges that police broke into their two houses back in July 2011 in violation of their constitutional rights not to be forced to quarter soldiers in their homes.

"Anthony Mitchell claims he refused SWAT officers’ request to use his home in order to observe a domestic abuse standoff, but the cops forced their way inside his house anyway, pepper-spraying him and his dog. The lawsuit further alleges that Anthony’s parents, Michael and Linda, were treated roughly and forced from their home. Michael and Anthony were arrested for obstructing justice (these charges were later dismissed), and the family is suing the officers involved and the department in Las Vegas on various charges, including violations of their Third, Fourth, and 14th Amendment rights.

"Ilya Somin over at the Volokh Conspiracy law blog says that odds are the lawsuit doesn’t have much of a shot on Third Amendment grounds, since no matter how militarized cops have become, they’re not 'officially' soldiers. (Not that the Founding Fathers had any concept of modern policing when they wrote that.) But considering how almost completely the legal system has ignored the Third Amendment—even in relevant cases—it may be interesting to watch what happens to this lawsuit. In a semijust world, it might spark a discussion about how (and if) cops differ from soldiers, and force some higher-court judge to make a ruling about how the constitution applies to militarized police. This probably won’t happen. Unless the war on drugs ends and the behavior of cops, prosecutors, judges, and politicians changes for good, police departments will continue to occupy that sweet spot where they have the technology and mindset of soldiers in war zones, and very few restrictions on where they’re allowed to patrol.


"On to the rest of the bad cops of the week:

- Another week, another example of cops killing a dog for no reason. A video from June 30 shows Hawthorne, California, police arresting 52-year-old Leon Rosby for obstructing their robbery investigation—Rosby had been filming the officers, who claimed he refused to turn down his car stereo—then killing Rosby’s Rottweiler, Max, after the dog jumped out of the car and approached the cops. The video is brutal, and the reaction to it was so heated, both in the community and online, that Rosby has requested that people stop sending death threats to the Hawthorne police department. (The officers involved have been taken off the streets for now.)

- There’s a lot of evidence to suggest police departments around the country need training to deal with dogs without shooting them. Meanwhile, cops are animal lovers when it comes to their own pets—note how an Indiana State Police dog killed on duty is being officially mourned this week as a beloved companion and a law-enforcement officer.

- St. Louis, Missouri, cop Rory Bruce was caught on video punching a handcuffed 16-year-old in the face back in February 2012 and fired from the force and charged with assault. So far so good, but last week Bruce was acquitted of all charges after the judge hearing his case refused to allow the footage as evidence, and reportedly didn’t even watch it. Bruce and the police officers’ union now say the former cop should get his job back.

- On Wednesday, a Massachusetts state police SWAT team fatally shot a 23-year-old man while serving a warrant for “alleged sales of oxycodone and Percocet.” Corey Navarette supposedly 'confronted' police with his weapon, so one or more of them opened fire. Authorities were aware that Navarette was armed, but still choose to send a SWAT team to his door at 5 AM. A woman also named in the warrant suffered minor injuries.

- Two Brazoria County, Texas, women filed a federal lawsuit against Texas state troopers who pulled them over for speeding and, after claiming to smell marijuana, gave them body-cavity searches. Nothing was found on the women’s persons, though a little weed was in the car. Officer Jennie Bui, who performed the search, allegedly without changing gloves, has been fired and the male officer who was present was suspended. (Yes, this is a different Texas-State-Troopers-perform-side-of-the-road-cavity-search lawsuit than the one we mentioned last week, though the cases are practically identical.)


- A Beckley, West Virginia, police seatbelt checkpoint lead to no seatbelt citations—but cops arrested five people and found enough marijuana, crack cocaine, and cash to no doubt make it worth their while.

- This week, almost 3 million people watched college student Chris Kalbaugh’s YouTube video of his Fourth of July confrontation with members of Tennessee's Rutherford County Sheriff's Department at a DUI checkpoint. In the (edited and editorializing) video, a deputy identified as A. J. Ross yells at Kalbaugh when he opens his window only a few inches, then asks if he’s being detained. The video—according to Kalbaugh’s interpretation—also shows the K-9 officer encouraging a false drug positive from his dog in order to make the search of his vehicle legal. The footage ends after cops find the camera during their search and turn it face-down.

- In Richmond County, Georgia, 28-year-old Matthew Haley claims that sheriff’s deputies arrested him for filming on a public street and refusing to provide his ID on June 2. On July 5, when Atlanta news channel WRDW took Haley out to film the sheriff’s office, deputies came out to again question Haley and to express some overwrought paranoia about terrorists who film public buildings.

- On Thursday, cops in Las Vegas locked down a whole neighborhood after reports of someone firing shots into the air. One arrest was made—and seven people were taken into custody—but no weapon was found.

- It’s understandable that reports of a suicidal woman with a gun would draw police to the scene, as it did in Odessa, Texas, on Saturday, but a SWAT team outside your door has got to be one of the least soothing things for the mentally distressed to see.

- Our Good Cop of the Week award goes to San Francisco police officer Matt Lobre, who saved an elderly woman from a house fire. This simple story is so wholesome and heartening, we may have to check if Lobre is really a 21st-century cop. That's some Frank Capra shit right there.


"Lucy Steigerwald is a freelance writer and photographer. Read her blog here and follow her on Twitter: @lucystag."

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Good cops and bad cops, the difference is getting harder to tell.  The federalization of local police forces isn't a good idea, but as the second article notes, "police departments around the country need training," and congressional interference is needed badly, not only to stop the actions noted in both articles, but to rid ourselves of the police brutality that is making its way to our newspapers every day.

The brutalization of police officers is easy to understand when we learn what they go through each day, but it must be cured as the actions of those Bad Cops is absolutely and totally criminal...and we wonder why criminals have no respect for cops?

People in Iceland were shocked recently when their police shot and killed a suspect for the first time ever  (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/02/iceland-police-kill-person-first-time-ever_n_4373228.html).

And as a component of racial warfare, racial profiling by the police is loved both by the police themselves, as well as Conservatives everywhere.


As representatives of the Authoritarian Personality (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authoritarian_personality) Conservatives, of course, love police brutality (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Police_brutality) anyway and the only way we'll see any congressional action to make our cops worthy of the respectable name of Watchdogs in a democratic society is with the absence of Conservatives in Congress - which is just another reason among many to criminalize Conservatism.



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“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who
have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt.


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