More Asset Forfeiture Madness

I didn’t think I could be shocked anymore by the ways police departments abuse the civil asset forfeiture laws (which are abusive enough as it is). But Radley Balko reports at the Huffington Post about one of the most outrageous cases you’ll ever hear of. Here’s the story of one family, which shows what some agencies are doing:

When the Brown County, Wis., Drug Task Force arrested her son Joel last February, Beverly Greer started piecing together his bail.

She used part of her disability payment and her tax return. Joel Greer’s wife also chipped in, as did his brother and two sisters. On Feb. 29, a judge set Greer’s bail at $7,500, and his mother called the Brown County jail to see where and how she could get him out. “The police specifically told us to bring cash,” Greer says. “Not a cashier’s check or a credit card. They said cash.”

So Greer and her family visited a series of ATMs, and on March 1, she brought the money to the jail, thinking she’d be taking Joel Greer home. But she left without her money, or her son.

Instead jail officials called in the same Drug Task Force that arrested Greer. A drug-sniffing dog inspected the Greers’ cash, and about a half-hour later, Beverly Greer said, a police officer told her the dog had alerted to the presence of narcotics on the bills — and that the police department would be confiscating the bail money.

“I told them the money had just come from the bank,” Beverly Greer says. “We had just taken it out. If the money had drugs on it, then they should go seize all the money at the bank, too. I just don’t understand how they could do that.” …

It took four months for Beverly Greer to get her family’s money back, and then only after attorney Andy Williams agreed to take their case. “The family produced the ATM receipts proving that had recently withdrawn the money,” Williams says. “Beverly Greer had documentation for her disability check and her tax return. Even then, the police tried to keep their money.”

A staggering percentage of all currency in this country has traces of cocaine on them. Not because a lot of people use coke but because money circulates constantly. To use that as evidence and seize bail money based on it is as inane as any policy I’ve ever heard of. And the Greers are not alone. It’s likely that this is so outrageous that the courts would likely overturn the seizures, but as Balko notes, that may not deter agencies from continuing the practice.

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  • Perhaps they should do the same tests to any money in the officers’ wallets?

  • fastlane

    ZA, was thinking the same thing. It’s interesting, though, how often a drug dog ‘alerts’ when the handlers really want them to.

    And there’s no way I would ever travel with that kind of cash these days. I would get a cashier’s check, or spend the extra money to have the cash wired to where I needed it. I just don’t trust police enough to not get randomly pulled over and have them discover the cash.

  • jjgdenisrobert

    “traces of cocaine”: even more to the point, narcotic-sniffing dogs have an alarming false-positive rate. They are not very specific, and are far less accurate than popular media would have you believe. So evidence from narcotic dogs should never be allowed to be used to justify seizure.

  • jjgdenisrobert
  • left0ver1under

    The biggest and worst criminal gang on the streets is the one with government issued guns and immunity from prosecution.

  • This is about as close to pure stealing as you can get. I’m surprised the cops didn’t just have someone mug the woman on the way to the station. It would have been faster and more permanent.

  • jollywahlstrom

    Fine, use the dogs to sniff the cash. Then inspect the cash. Are there drugs hiding in the cash? If not, then how do you take someone’s money? If my car trunk smelled like drugs are they going to inspect for drugs or take my car even if they don’t find drugs? The supervisor who allowed this should be sued or fired at least.

  • Dalillama

    Sued and fired? From a cursory examination of Wisconsin law, that appears to be felony theft punishable by up to 6 years in prison. As far as I’m concerned, everyone involved in the seizure, including the drug team, the supervisor, and whoever called in the drug team, should all receive the maximum sentence, plus any conspiracy charges that can be levied. Everyone in the department that she contacted to try to recover the money is an accessory after the fact, which is also a crime AFAIK.

  • Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle

    The biggest and worst criminal gang on the streets is the one with government issued guns and immunity from prosecution.


    At this point, I’m not sure that, if I ever have kids, I’d teach them that the cops are there to help people.

  • eric

    Several lessons to be learned here.

    -Yet another reason to tape police doing their job

    -Bring a lawyer with you to any serious court appearance

    -Most importantly, when the police demand cash, that is the exact wrong time to give it to them. Bring a cashier’s check.

    After all, if a cashier’s check doesn’t work, your loved one will spend another day in jail due to your caution…but this is quite a lot less than the extra time they will spend in jail if the police confiscate your bail money.

  • Snopes confirms that a large percentage of US money does contain traces of cocaine.

  • marcus

    @9 Illuminata, Make that a definite “I would not teach my kids that cops are there to help people” and I would agree with you. There are notable exceptions I’m sure, but I’m beginning to believe that they are just that, “notable exceptions”. It is a shame that they have to carry the weight of their asshole brethren. The “War on Drugs” has almost totally corrupted the promise “To Protect and To Serve”.

  • Woof

    Revolutions have started over less outrageous policies…

  • F

    Uh huh. Complete setup. “Bring cash only.” Riiiiight.

  • demonhellfish

    Nevermind a cashier’s check, go for postal money orders. They’re generally cheaper than bank checks, and they’re backed by the US government. If any government agency turns them down, I’m pretty sure they’d be violating the “full faith and credit” clause, as well as pretty much proving that they’re not playing to use the money legitimately.

  • ChasCPeterson

    sorry, OT question for Ed Brayton:

    I noticed that your old archived blog at National Geographic’s ScienceBlogs has been retitled ‘Dispatches from the Creation Wars’, and I was curious about when that happened and why.

  • Pinky

    I agree “I would not teach my kids that cops are there to help people”. The lesson I tried to give my children is: The person responsible for your well being is you.

    There is a not well understood concept, clarified by courts up to and including the Supreme Court, that law enforcement is not responsible for an individual’s safety. The courts have released police from liability even if the police are notified heinous crimes are happening but the cops failed to respond because fresh donuts are coming out of the oven. OK the part about the donuts was hyperbole, but in fact the police do not need to have a reason to fail to protect an individual.

    A New York Times article from June 28, 2005, describes a case that had made it to the Supreme Court. A Castle Rock, Colorado woman wanted to sue the town because the police would not respond after she told them her estranged husband violated a protective order by kidnapping their three daughters:

    For hours on the night of June 22, 1999, Jessica Gonzales tried to get the Castle Rock police to find and arrest her estranged husband, Simon Gonzales, who was under a court order to stay 100 yards away from the house. He had taken the children, ages 7, 9 and 10, as they played outside, and he later called his wife to tell her that he had the girls at an amusement park in Denver.

    Ms. Gonzales conveyed the information to the police, but they failed to act before Mr. Gonzales arrived at the police station hours later, firing a gun, with the bodies of the girls in the back of his truck. The police killed him at the scene.

    The Castle Rock police could not be bothered to help one of their citizens until the estranged husband showed up at their house (station) shooting a gun with his three dead daughters with him.

    Justice Scalia wrote the majority opinion after the Supremes denied Ms. Gonzales’ right to sue the city of Castle Rock. The opinion included this illogical statement:

    Justice Scalia said, “a well-established tradition of police discretion has long coexisted with apparently mandatory arrest statutes.”

    Say what?

    That is the long way around to explain why I do not think “cops are there to help people.”

    Check it out for yourself, google “police duty to protect.”

  • Woof

    The criminal justice system is broken, from the cops to the courts to the prisons.

    The educational system is broken.

    Infrastructure has become a joke.

    The National Security / Homeland Security apparatus is bleeding the country dry, to little benefit.

    Most of all, the electoral system is broken.

    Anyone see any of this getting better incrementally? Or should we just blow up the whole sumbitch and start over?

    Or… could fixing the electoral system make it possible to fix the other ills without slash & burn / nuke & pave tactics?

    But what do I know? I’m just a dog.

  • sailor1031

    ” Justice Scalia said, “a well-established tradition of police discretion has long coexisted with apparently mandatory arrest statutes.”

    Silly me, I thought that we were governed by laws and that those overrode tradition. After all in Virginia where I currently live there was a long tradition of lynching black people…..One might have expected a SC Justice to understand the difference. Oh well….

  • Phillip IV

    Well, between giving job creators the required tax breaks and essential additions to the DOD budget, it was high time that the police shouldered their part of the burden of the fundraising efforts. If the Sheriff of Nottingham managed to press money out of the impoverished peasantry, why not the Sheriff of Brown County, Wis.? Thanks to widespread gun ownership and “stand your ground” laws, he won’t even have to worry about Robin Hood (especially if he’s wearing one).

  • Tualha

    Note that nothing at all happened to the cops. Heads they win and you lose; tails you’re back where you started.

    Gee, maybe we should run the justice system that way. If you’re caught stealing something, you just have to give it back, no other penalties. That would work well, wouldn’t it.

  • JustaTech

    I’m not surprised with the “bring cash” thing. Recently my parents were involved in bailing out my brother and had to bring cash to the station to give to the bail bondsman. It had to be in cash, no credit cards or checks (and getting a large amount of cash on short notice on a weekend is a nightmare, what with the ATM limits), and they counted it out together in a room at the police station that was clearly only used for counting cash. The bondsman took his cut in the form of two twenties.

    So here’s another question: where was the ‘free enterprise’ in this situation ie the bail bonds company? Did the cops in this town kick them out because the cops thought their kickback from the bail bonds was too small and they would just start taking the whole thing?

  • Didaktylos

    @#17 – in the Army, they call that “derelection of duty” and the consequences are a blindfold and a cigarette …

  • Ichthyic

    Anyone see any of this getting better incrementally?

    yes. but it will take several more generations and a lot of painstaking time and energy on the part of people who will see no immediate benefit for their efforts.

    Or should we just blow up the whole sumbitch and start over?

    it’s been done before. doesn’t work. what causes the problems to begin with remains.

  • anne mariehovgaard

    About the sniffer dogs: what people need to remember is that a well-trained dog is a sub – an adoring, crazily besotted sub with a fairly small brain. It wants, needs to please its master – and if Master wants it to find something when there’s nothing to find, it’ll invent something out of a desire to please.

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