Why You Should Never, Ever Drive Through Tenaha, Texas

Russell, who moonlighted locally as a country singer, told Henderson and Boatright that they had two options. They could face felony charges for “money laundering” and “child endangerment,” in which case they would go to jail and their children would be handed over to foster care. Or they could sign over their cash to the city of Tenaha, and get back on the road.

“Where are we?” Boatright remembers thinking. “Is this some kind of foreign country, where they’re selling people’s kids off?” Holding her sixteen-month-old on her hip, she broke down in tears.

He says that a Tenaha officer told him, “Don’t even bother getting a lawyer. The money always stays here.”

– From Sarah’s Stillman’s New Yorker article “Taken”

The following article by Sarah Stillman in the New Yorker has been generating a lot of buzz in the past couple of days, and for good reason. Her piece titled “Taken,” is a stunning portrayal of the increasingly popular police theft tactic known as civil forfeiture.

In a nutshell, civil forfeiture is the practice of confiscating items from people, ranging from cash, cars, even homes based on no criminal conviction or charges, merely suspicion. This practice first became widespread for use against pirates, as a way to take possession of contraband goods despite the fact that the ships’ owners in many cases were located thousands of miles away and couldn’t easily be prosecuted. As is often the case, what starts out reasonable becomes a gigantic organized crime ring of criminality, particularly in a society where the rule of law no longer exists for the “elite,” yet anything goes when it comes to pillaging the average citizen.

One of the major reasons these programs have become so abused is that the police departments themselves are able to keep much of the confiscated money. So they actually have a perverse incentive to steal. As might be expected, a program that is often touted as being effective against going after major drug kingpins, actually targets the poor and disenfranchised more than anything else.

For example: “In 2011, he reports, fifty-eight local, county, and statewide police forces in Georgia brought in $2.76 million in forfeitures; more than half the items taken were worth less than six hundred and fifty dollars.”

Although lengthy, this is a very important article and I suggest reading the entire thing. If that’s too much for you, I’ve highlighted some key excerpts below. From the New Yorker:

When they returned to the highway ten minutes later, Boatright, a honey-blond “Texas redneck from Lubbock,” by her own reckoning, and Henderson, who is Latino, noticed something strange. The same police car that their eleven-year-old had admired in the mini-mart parking lot was trailing them. Near the city limits, a tall, bull-shouldered officer named Barry Washington pulled them over.

He asked if Henderson knew that he’d been driving in the left lane for more than half a mile without passing.

No, Henderson replied. He said he’d moved into the left lane so that the police car could make its way onto the highway.

Were there any drugs in the car? When Henderson and Boatright said no, the officer asked if he and his partner could search the car.

Mistake number one, allowing him to search the car. Although these days if you say no, the cops tend to falsely claim they smell drugs as an excuse to search it anyway.

The officers found the couple’s cash and a marbled-glass pipe that Boatright said was a gift for her sister-in-law, and escorted them across town to the police station. In a corner there, two tables were heaped with jewelry, DVD players, cell phones, and the like. According to the police report, Boatright and Henderson fit the profile of drug couriers: they were driving from Houston, “a known point for distribution of illegal narcotics,” to Linden, “a known place to receive illegal narcotics.” The report describes their children as possible decoys, meant to distract police as the couple breezed down the road, smoking marijuana. (None was found in the car, although Washington claimed to have smelled it.)

The county’s district attorney, a fifty-seven-year-old woman with feathered Charlie’s Angels hair named Lynda K. Russell, arrived an hour later. Russell, who moonlighted locally as a country singer, told Henderson and Boatright that they had two options. They could face felony charges for “money laundering” and “child endangerment,” in which case they would go to jail and their children would be handed over to foster care. Or they could sign over their cash to the city of Tenaha, and get back on the road. “No criminal charges shall be filed,” a waiver she drafted read, “and our children shall not be turned over to CPS,” or Child Protective Services.

If that is not evil, I don’t know what is. What kind of sociopath threatens to take people’s children if they don’t fork over their cash?

“Where are we?” Boatright remembers thinking. “Is this some kind of foreign country, where they’re selling people’s kids off?” Holding her sixteen-month-old on her hip, she broke down in tears.

Later, she learned that cash-for-freedom deals had become a point of pride for Tenaha, and that versions of the tactic were used across the country. “Be safe and keep up the good work,” the city marshal wrote to Washington, following a raft of complaints from out-of-town drivers who claimed that they had been stopped in Tenaha and stripped of cash, valuables, and, in at least one case, an infant child, without clear evidence of contraband.

In general, you needn’t be found guilty to have your assets claimed by law enforcement; in some states, suspicion on a par with “probable cause” is sufficient. Nor must you be charged with a crime, or even be accused of one. Unlike criminal forfeiture, which requires that a person be convicted of an offense before his or her property is confiscated, civil forfeiture amounts to a lawsuit filed directly against a possession, regardless of its owner’s guilt or innocence.

Owners who wish to contest often find that the cost of hiring a lawyer far exceeds the value of their seized goods. Washington, D.C., charges up to twenty-five hundred dollars simply for the right to challenge a police seizure in court, which can take months or even years to resolve.

“We all know the way things are right now—budgets are tight,” Steve Westbrook, the executive director of the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas, says. “It’s definitely a valuable asset to law enforcement, for purchasing equipment and getting things you normally wouldn’t be able to get to fight crime.” Many officers contend that their departments would collapse if the practice were too heavily regulated, and that a valuable public-safety measure would be lost.

But a system that proved successful at wringing profits from drug cartels and white-collar fraudsters has also given rise to corruption and violations of civil liberties. Over the past year, I spoke with more than a hundred police officers, defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges, and forfeiture plaintiffs from across the country. Many expressed concern that state laws designed to go after high-flying crime lords are routinely targeting the workaday homes, cars, cash savings, and other belongings of innocent people who are never charged with a crime.

In August, 2007, Tenaha police pulled Morrow over for “driving too close to the white line,” and took thirty-nine hundred dollars from him. Morrow told Guillory that he was on his way to get dental work done at a Houston mall. (The arresting officers said that his “stories of travel” were inconsistent, as was his account of how much money he had; they also said they detected the “odor of burned marijuana,” although no contraband was found in the car.) Morrow, who is black, was taken to jail, where he pleaded with authorities to call his bank to see proof of his recent cash withdrawal. They declined.

“They impounded my car, and they impounded me, too,” Morrow told me, recalling the night he spent in jail. When he finally agreed to sign away his property, he was released on the side of the road with no money, no vehicle, and no phone. He says that a Tenaha officer told him, “Don’t even bother getting a lawyer. The money always stays here.” But finally he decided “to shine a big ol’ light on them.”

It’s not just Texas of course…

The public records I reviewed support Rulli’s assertion that homes in Philadelphia are routinely seized for unproved minor drug crimes, often involving children or grandchildren who don’t own the home. “For real-estate forfeitures, it’s overwhelmingly African-Americans and Hispanics,” Rulli told me. “It has a very disparate race and class impact.” He went on to talk about Andy Reid, the former coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, whose two sons were convicted of drug crimes in 2007 while living at the family’s suburban mansion in Villanova. “Do you know what the headline read? It said, ‘the home was an “emporium of drugs.” ’ An emporium of drugs!” The phrase, Rulli explained, came directly from a local judge. “And here’s the question: Do you think they seized it?”

Two sets of rules. USA! USA!

Whether this should be the law—whether, in the absence of a judicial finding of guilt, the state should be able to take possession of your property—has been debated since before American independence. In the Colonial period, the English Crown issued “writs of assistance” that permitted customs officials to enter homes or vessels and seize whatever they deemed contraband. As the legal scholars Eric Blumenson and Eva Nilsen have noted, these writs were “among the key grievances that triggered the American Revolution.

Forfeiture remained an infrequent resort until 1984, when Congress passed the Comprehensive Crime Control Act. It established a special fund that turned over proceeds from forfeitures to the law-enforcement agencies responsible for them. Local police who provided federal assistance were rewarded with a large percentage of the proceeds, through a program called Equitable Sharing. Soon states were crafting their own forfeiture laws.

Just like the perverse and immoral incentives offered by private prisons, Equitable Sharing for civil forfeiture is clearly a horrible idea.

Revenue gains were staggering. At the Justice Department, proceeds from forfeiture soared from twenty-seven million dollars in 1985 to five hundred and fifty-six million in 1993. (Last year, the department took in nearly $4.2 billion in forfeitures, a record.)

But civil-forfeiture statutes continued to proliferate, and at the state and local level controls have often been lax. Many states, facing fiscal crises, have expanded the reach of their forfeiture statutes, and made it easier for law enforcement to use the revenue however they see fit. In some Texas counties, nearly forty per cent of police budgets comes from forfeiture. (Only one state, North Carolina, bans the practice, requiring a criminal conviction before a person’s property can be seized.)

There you have it folks. Just more proof that the U.S. has become nothing more than a third world, gangster-ridden, criminally insane, cesspool of corruption and immorality. From the canyons of Wall Street, to the corridors of Washington D.C. From the operating room, to small town police departments. We need a total systemic reboot.

Full article here.

In Liberty,
Michael Krieger

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21 Comments

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  1. I may be mistaken, but it is my impression that the pervasive “dash-cams” in Russian motor vehicles proliferated for precisely this reason, the roadside police shakedown. Citizens started installing them because that was cheaper than forking over cash, time and again. Cops there became careful to pull over folks without the cams, proving their effectiveness and making them indispensible.
    Dash-cams in Russia became an important source of images of the large meteor that crashed there several months ago, incidentally.

    Taking the issue of civil forfeiture itself: why was it never tested in relation to the fourth amendment? It’s obviously unconstitutional.

    • Paso, I’m not sure that you are correct. My understanding was that the dash-cams were for the insurance disputes that happen after an accident. If the police want to shake you down, what’s stopping them from taking/destroying your camera?

  2. Thanks for this story. I travel in rural areas and will now be extremely careful, not to mention hide my cash.

  3. PHILLIP MCKREVISS

    FORWARD !!

  4. Margretta, police dogs are trained to sniff out US currency now. Several meme-setting TV cop/forensic/sitcom shows claim “all” $100 bills in the USA have microscopic traces of cocaine on them (all $100 bills are used first by the drug cartels, don’t you know), so therefore all drug-sniffing dogs can detect cash anywhere in a vehicle or on your person.

    • 85% of ALL money is the correct number, not just $100s. You can go to the bank, withdraw the cash and immediately put it in front of a dog and the dog will hit….

  5. This story is hard to comprehend,is democracy dead in the USA,
    what will happen and who will judge the CIA as they importing tons of cocaine to the US with own aeroplanes,as I read in the news just 2 days ago,I feel really sorry for you people.

  6. Obamahu Akbar! Obamahu Akbar!

    This is how the USSA dies. All because people don’t know their rights, and the Constitution is a worthless piece of paper that nobody will stand up and defend.

    More food stamps, please…

  7. I can dislike what cops did. But do anyone believe that they (the couple) traveled to Linden with $39K in cache to buy used car? IT is absolutely ridiculous. Cops had some reason to suspect this couple in money laundering and there was a reason why couple agreed to exchange money to the ‘no case against them’.

    So, white it was for sure violation of the people-s rights, the story is very far from such innocent story as it is shown. It is more like’ couple of drug dealers agreed to have their money forfeited in exchange to the freedom’. And they definitely lye when talking about 39K saving and used car.

    So the story is more about unskilled cops who was not able to find the correct evidence and proposed illegal deal, and not about innocent couple who was abused by the cops. Sorry, guys, I support cops in this case (but do not support an idea that they can forfeit things on just suspection).

    • Judging by your inability to write a comprehensible English sentence I don’t think we care what your ill-informed opinion is!

    • $3900 for dental work is not $39000 for a used car. You need to read more carefully. I heard about a case though where a used car dealer was relieved of thousands of dollars while on his way to a dealer’s auto auction (These are usually cash only affairs.).

    • Alex R. You really did not read. It was $3,900.00 not $39,000.00 and it was not the Hispanic male and whit female couple it was the black male on his way to have dental work who had that money, his car and his cell phone taken with no criminal charges. As for the couple coerces to sign over their cash or their child it did not mention the specific amount of cash in this blog. It may be that the specific amount is mentioned in the original story in the ‘New Yorker” .

  8. Why is it so hard to believe that a couple would have cash on them to buy a car? It happens every day. Hell, people buy houses with cash.
    Just because you don’t see it as a reality doesn’t mean it isn’t done.

    So, apparently anyone with a bunch of cash ‘must be’ a criminal?
    Last I knew, cash isn’t illegal.

    You’re part of the reason for the decline of this country. Let me know how that works out for you.

  9. You liberal idiots !!!! F-U
    WES

  10. I keep a $20 a month pre-paid legal account for just this reason. People may think it’s a waste of money to prepay legal services, but I look at it like insurance. I can call someone 24 hours a day if I get pulled over and they coach me as to what to do to remain in charge. Other than that, there are also a lot of guides on the internet about what to do/say in a traffic encounter, so as not to make your situation worse. Good idea to review regularly to make sure you are able to remain calm and emotionless if you get stopped. Panic is your worst enemy.

  11. I am in trouble! I live in Texas and on the 10th of each mo. after I pay my bills I write myself a check for everything over $2000.00 and cash it. I always have a stash of cash. I have paid cash for the last four cars I bought. I have daily coffee with the Chief of Police. He has never mentioned this. Guess I had bettrt stay close to home.

  12. Congress should pass a law requiring Federal review for seizures over $1000–as there should be no excuse for seizures under that amount anyway. Also, judicial review at the federal level. This story about Tenaha, TX was so big a few years ago but then died. I thought the Justice Dept was going to look into it. Or else, perhaps the Texans are just very good at laundering the money amongst themselves. I mean, we saw how effective Lyndon Johnson was getting elected stuffing ballots with his thugs. And that is what these police are–racketeers.

  13. Haha Barry’s a devil anyway, they’ll give you hell whether your passing through or sticking around….some guys just can’t control themselves when they get a shiny badge and purdy car….

  14. I bought a car of eBay and traveled with just a little under $20K about 15 years ago. These roadside confiscations are nothing but robberies by armed goons with a badge.
    No matter what the laws have been passed to justify them, they violate not only the 4th Amendment but also the 5th of the US Constitution and thus are null and void.
    Someone needs to take this all the way to the supreme court.

  15. Just looked this place up on the map. They learned this tactic from Louisiana Sheriffs from the 80´s and 90´s. LA Sheriffs would plant drugs in cars of people passing through to confiscate their cars. By the time you fought them the cars were auctioned off. Usually no charges were filed and the Sheriff pocketed the money. This made national TV news back in the day. These days NO reporter would dare do INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM and shut it down.

  16. Earlier this year I saw some similar websites such as one about a County west of Nashville, Tn. that was running a scam. Their patrols would pull over out-of-state tags, both cars and trucks, and look for a way to relieve them of cash or drugs. They were discovered and the County tightened up.

    I think people will naturally defend themselves from theft, and will rise up against these so-called government officials soon. We’ll see…… I do know that wages for the ordinary worker have risen very little over the years, but the phoney inflationary printing press or electronic press is pumping it out, just look at the Fed statistics. Trillions of $$ in debt this country of ours is in ……..

    Wake up, all…..

    Peace

    Charley, 77, East Tenn

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