New Yorker Feature on Forfeiture Abuse

The New Yorker has a lengthy new article on civil forfeiture abuse by state and local authorities. It's filled with horror stories of corruption and violations of civil liberties.

In many states, it's no more than highway piracy:

Patterns began to emerge. Nearly all the targets had been pulled over for routine traffic stops. Many drove rental cars and came from out of state. None appeared to have been issued tickets. And the targets were disproportionately black or Latino.

In others, it's policing for profit. Some cities, like Detroit, try to justify the seizures as "quality of life" preservation under ancient vice statutes. This one is a doozy: [More...]

Another case involves a monthly social event that had been hosted by the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit. In the midst of festivities one evening in late May, 2008, forty-odd officers in black commando gear stormed the gallery and its rear patio, ordering the guests to the ground. Some in attendance thought that they were the victims of an armed robbery. One young woman who had fallen only to her knees told me that a masked figure screamed at her, “Bitch, you think you’re too pretty to get in the mud?” A boot from behind kicked her to the ground.

The officers, including members of the Detroit Police Department’s vice squad and mobile tactical unit, placed the guests under arrest. According to police records, the gallery lacked proper city permits for after-hours dancing and drinking, and an old ordinance aimed at “blind pigs” (speakeasies) and other places of “illegal occupation” made it a crime to patronize such a place, knowingly or not.

After lining the guests on their knees before a “prisoner processing table” and searching them, the officers asked for everyone’s car keys. Then the raid team seized every vehicle it could find, even venturing to the driveway of a young man’s friend nearly a mile away to retrieve his car. Forty-four cars were taken to government-contracted lots.

Most of those detained had to pay more than a thousand dollars for the return of their cars; if payment wasn’t made promptly, the car would become city property. The proceeds were divided among the offices of the prosecutors, police, and towing companies.

The ACLU sued and won. The court, in its ruling, said these types of police actions are widespread.

The state and local abuses typically affect those with insufficient resources to fight back. Maybe if state and local victims of police misconduct were able to recover treble damages for wrongfully seized property and arrests it would be a deterrent. Or maybe the feds should announce a new policy that a state or locality found by a court to engage in egregious seizures is ineligible for federal grants and law enforcement funding.

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  • Display: Sort:
    I'm glad I'm glad this is finally getting exposer. (5.00 / 3) (#1)
    by redwolf on Sun Aug 11, 2013 at 06:41:33 AM EST
    Most people don't these types of abuses exist because they don't see it on the news.

    The Patriot Act again: (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by Mr Natural on Sun Aug 11, 2013 at 09:24:27 AM EST
    - from the article:

    One of the lesser-known provisions of the Patriot Act was a section overturning several of CAFRA's protections for property owners when they are the subject of terror investigations, however preliminary.

    At the very least, any assets should be (5.00 / 5) (#4)
    by ruffian on Sun Aug 11, 2013 at 09:45:13 AM EST
    put in escrow pending a guilty verdict. Local policing orgs  should not be able to shake people down to fill their coffers. It is pure extortion. In one of the examples in the story, a woman was threatened with her kids being put in foster care if she did not immediately give up her car, or maybe it was  a couple of thousand bucks.

    Who are the real criminals?

    When ethics, honor and integrity (5.00 / 4) (#5)
    by txantimedia on Sun Aug 11, 2013 at 10:22:26 AM EST
    no longer mean anything, this is the government you get.  And fixing it won't be easy, if it's fixable at all.

    Please, (none / 0) (#11)
    by jtaylorr on Sun Aug 11, 2013 at 07:45:45 PM EST
    tell us about this wonderful time in the U.S.'s history when our federal, state & local governments had ethics, honor and integrity.
    And it doesn't count if you're only talking about white land-owning males.

    The problem (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Sun Aug 11, 2013 at 07:59:03 PM EST

    The problem is not the lack of perfect people with ethics, honor, and integrity.  The problem is the erosion of constraints on the power of government at all levels.



    Thanks Jeralyn (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by Visteo1 on Sun Aug 11, 2013 at 11:04:48 AM EST
    For bringing this to light. On Alter Road there is a 25mph speed limit.  A single DPD squad car does not sit idle for long.  One after another vehicle is stopped.  I don't know how many tickets or warnings are issued, but what I do notice is the constant stream of vehicles being loaded onto flatbed tow trucks.  The drivers are usually released...some walk home, some find rides.

    At $900 a pop, this makes sense for me.  Speeding gives probable cause.  I am not sure what warrants the seizure of vehicles...wish I did.

    terrorist parking tickets? terrorist speeding? (none / 0) (#8)
    by Mr Natural on Sun Aug 11, 2013 at 11:45:57 AM EST
    Heck, since we're both within 100 miles of the Canadian border, a zone in which the border security theatre crowd have declared their authority over any and all computing devices (or is it everything we own?) it's a wonder we've got anything left to type these complaints on.

    Profiling is the only complaint (none / 0) (#10)
    by Visteo1 on Sun Aug 11, 2013 at 05:38:06 PM EST
    that I had seen with the Border Patrol in Detroit.  If you have a good link, please share.

    Living in Detroit, I welcome their presence in my neighborhood.  I flagged them down over a trespasser in my church.  They helped me free a chainsaw pinched in a tree and helped me pull an old man's car out of the mud both at the park at the end of Alter.  Personally, I can only give them praise.    


    Great post, J (5.00 / 7) (#7)
    by Dadler on Sun Aug 11, 2013 at 11:11:25 AM EST
    More proof that the police, by and large, are not public servants as much as a secret society.

    When unionized public employees (i.e. the police) started busting Occupy Wall Street heads, all the ugly irony necessary was on full display.

    Just finished reading (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by someTV on Sun Aug 11, 2013 at 04:24:52 PM EST
    article last night and left me very dismayed...cornered by lack of revenues, they resort to any means necessary.

    Maybe (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by Mikado Cat on Sun Aug 11, 2013 at 08:30:44 PM EST
    restructure the law so its not a local profit center requiring the bulk of proceeds to go to the state level with more oversight?

    I don't care for the lack of due process.

    Battling Terrorist shoplifting: (none / 0) (#3)
    by Mr Natural on Sun Aug 11, 2013 at 09:36:40 AM EST
    For once not funded by your tax dollars, but by the assets, body, and soul, seized from relatives of Maricopa County, Arizona, terrorist shoplifters.

    Sheriff Joe rides again.

    25 years ago or so (none / 0) (#12)
    by TeresaInPa on Sun Aug 11, 2013 at 07:58:02 PM EST
    in south Florida mainly Miami, the drug trade was ruining the quality of life for everyone.  You were not safe anywhere and the forfeiture laws started to put a a stop to the problem while funding anti drug crime units.
    Sorry to hear the whole idea has gone so wrong.

    It was used (5.00 / 3) (#15)
    by bmaz on Sun Aug 11, 2013 at 10:18:25 PM EST
    ...to leverage and abuse the due process rights of defendants in a lot more places than Florida. There is no problem with forfeiture of assets upon conviction of a crime; allowing the government to take property from people and make them affirmatively waive 5th Amendment rights and otherwise be deprived under civil burdens and presumptions is unconscionable. It was then, and it is now.

    Root cause... (5.00 / 2) (#16)
    by kdog on Mon Aug 12, 2013 at 08:16:20 AM EST
    is prohibition, not the drug trade.  Notice nobody is shooting up the streets over liquor distribution anymore.

    It was the wrong idea from the get go.


    Agreed... (none / 0) (#17)
    by ScottW714 on Mon Aug 12, 2013 at 10:37:26 AM EST
    ...but does anyone really believe the cops wouldn't find some other BS law or reason to shake people down ?  The fact that someone actually spend time trying to validate the above actions with a law is surprising.  

    The cops are like Nixon in their belief that if they do it's not illegal.


    Too true... (none / 0) (#18)
    by kdog on Mon Aug 12, 2013 at 11:33:20 AM EST
    a badge has always been a license to steal.  What's alarming is how much theft has been codified legal.