Almost exactly one year ago today, I published a post which went on to become extremely popular titled: Why You Should Never, Ever Drive Through Tenaha, Texas. If you failed to read it the first time around, I suggest you take look as it provides a good outline of just what is at stake when it comes to this destructive and abusive practice increasingly utilized by police departments across these United States with zero repercussions for the offending officers. In last years article I noted that:
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.
While this epidemic of law enforcement theft is problematic throughout the country (see these egregious examples from Tennessee and Michigan), it appears Texas has a particularly keen love affair with the practice. Not only did last year’s story take place in Texas, today’s highlighted episode also takes place in the Lone Star State. This time in a town of 150 people called Estelline, which earns more than 89% of its gross revenues from traffic fines and forfeitures. In other words, from theft.
Here’s a little background on this particular story. From the Armarillo Globe News:
The city of Estelline is reviewing its police procedures after Hall County authorities reached a $77,500 legal settlement with an Azle woman who alleged officers illegally seized more than $29,000 from her pickup and kept $1,400 of her cash.
Fry, who was parked just past a speed limit sign in the tiny Hall County town, stopped Dutton that November evening for traveling 61 mph in a 50-mph traffic zone. Fry, the city’s lone police officer, asked to search Dutton’s pickup, but she refused. The officer then contacted Jolly, who drove “Kilo,” a drug sniffing canine, to Estelline about 30 minutes later, according to court records and deposition testimony.
So the cops set up a speed trap and then use it as an excuse to illegally confiscate citizens’ property. Kill two revenue birds with one stone.
Fry told Jolly he thought he smelled raw marijuana in the pickup and that he thought Dutton was acting nervously. The drug dog “hit” on the vehicle and the officers found more than $29,000 inside Dutton’s purse, still bundled in bank currency wrapping. Dutton told officers she didn’t do drugs and denied having any marijuana in her truck. She told officers the cash came from a recent property sale, and no drugs were found during the search.
During the stop, the Memphis police chief reportedly contacted Dutton’s two sisters, who confirmed her account that the money was received from a recent real estate transaction. Jolly, according to court records, then called an experienced local criminal investigator, who advised that officers did not have enough evidence to justify Dutton’s arrest. After consulting with Jolly, Fry arrested Dutton, who was held overnight and bonded out the next day.
“The city of Memphis claims they destroyed their copy of that recorded interrogation. The city of Estelline says they didn’t make any such video or audio recording of Dutton’s roadside interrogations; only Memphis did,” court records show.
In a deposition, Estelline City Manager Richard Ferguson said the city, which has about 150 residents, had no written drug dog policy, no written arrest policy and no established forfeiture policy. The city also maintained no written records of past searches or seizures, yet traffic fines and forfeitures made up more than 89 percent of its gross revenues in fiscal year 2012.
“We vigorously defended the lawsuit and believe that both Chief Jolly and former Officer Fry as well as both of the cities did nothing to violate Ms. Dutton’s constitutional rights, but recognizing the uncertainties of continuing with litigation, all the parties agreed that a settlement was in their best interest,” Reno said. “The city of Estelline City Council is reviewing their current policies and procedures and exploring whether to adopt a new policy and procedure manual with respect to the operation of the police department.”
“I feel that I was roped, corralled and branded and put out to pasture as a felon,” she said.
There is so much wrong here I almost don’t know where to begin. This one case highlights so many of the destructive practices happening in the U.S. today, it is as if this tiny Texas town serves as a microcosm for so much that is wrong with America. Let’s start with the drug dog.
Americans are increasingly becoming familiar with their Constitutional rights, particularly the 4th Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. Cops don’t like this one bit. Whereas in the recent past most Americans might simply allow a law enforcement officer to search his or her car upon request, many more citizens are likely refusing such intrusions. This is where drug dogs come in to provide “probable cause.” The problem here is that many drug dogs are signaling a “drug hit” when there are no drugs present. This provides a convenient excuse for any officer to search any car at any time.
A great example of this practice was demonstrated in the July 4th video of a police stop in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, which has over 5 million views on YouTube. Once it became clear to the officer that the citizen who was pulled over knew his rights, the cop brought out a police dog that signaled drugs as an excuse to search the vehicle. No drugs were found. So either something is wrong with the dog, or the whole practice is a bullshit excuse for fascism. You know where I stand.
If you think that example is just a one-off, think again. One of the most horrific instances of non-leathal police abuse last year was the story of David Eckert, the New Mexico man for whom a routine traffic stop turned into a nightmare of torture, including multiple involuntary anal probes. The police dog that “sniffed drugs” and kicked off the entire episode wasn’t even certified to sniff for drugs in the state of New Mexico at the time. His certification expired two years earlier, but that didn’t stop local police from using it to harass and torture state residents.
The second major problem is officialdoms’ chronic “destruction of evidence” once it gets caught behaving criminally. Nothing epitomizes this more than the ridiculous destruction of hard drives pertaining to the ongoing IRS scandal. In a similar fashion, the city of Memphis in the above story “claims they destroyed their copy of that recorded interrogation.” How convenient. I’m sure the “dog ate my homework” excuse doesn’t work too well for the plebs when the IRS comes after you. Once again, the “elite” and their henchmen (like cops) can get away with anything, while the citizenry is increasingly “guilty until proven innocent.” Even when they are proven innocent, the guilty parties in officialdom, Wall Street, or corporate America are never, ever held to account with prison sentences, which would serve as the only real deterrent to serious white-collar crimes.
This brings us to the third point. Settlements. Settlements are what people in power are increasingly subject to once their criminality has been exposed. The absolute worst case scenario is a settlement, which does nothing to deter bad behavior. In fact, as many others have also noted, it actually encourages it. A Wall Street employee at a TBTF firm who knows the worst thing that will happen if he gets caught is his employer will pay a fine, will be incentivized to commit as much fraud as possible. The rewards are a lifestyle worthy of a Medieval king, while the punishment is a slap on the corporate wrist. They will take that trade any day. Unsurprisingly, when it became clear the cops in the above case would lose at trial, they merely “settled.”
Now here’s the worst part about these “settlements.” As you might expect, nothing changes systemically. The bad practices continue undeterred. For example, despite the fact that the city of Estillene has “no written drug dog policy, no written arrest policy and no established forfeiture policy,” the most they have committed to is: “Estelline City Council is reviewing their current policies and procedures and exploring whether to adopt a new policy and procedure manual with respect to the operation of the police department.” So in the face of a gross violation of a resident’s constitutional rights, the local police department’s response is basically “we’ll think about it.”
Finally, there is just the gross incompetence. Although the police department admittedly has no written drug dog, arrest or forfeiture policy, there is a little something called the Constitution of the United States of America, a document with which the police department appears entirely unfamiliar. What about the fact that the police corroborated her story with her sisters at the stop, and were even told by a local criminal investigator that they did not have cause to arrest her, yet they still went ahead and held her overnight.Most importantly, what if she didn’t have the wherewithal to know her rights in the first place? What if she didn’t fight back? What if she didn’t initiate a lawsuit?
Would we even know? Do we even care?
Full article here.
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