When Joel Greer was arrested by the Brown Country Wisconsin, Drug Task Force last February he called his mother to arrange to pay his $5,000 bail. She used her disability money and her tax return in addition to some money from Joel’s wife and siblings. She was told she had to bring cash, and about this police were adamant.
So Greer’s mother, Beverly, hit as many ATM’s as she could find to get the money out to get her son. When she got to the police station a new nightmare begun. Police told her that a drug dog had indicated there was the presence of narcotics on the bills she brought in. They said not only could she not get her son released, but the police were confiscating her money too.
“I told them the money had just come from the bank. 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.”
The Greers had been subjected to a practice called Civil Asset Forfeiture. Where local governments can seize the assets of people with an extremely low burden of proof. It took the Greers four months to get their money back according to the Huffington Post. They had to hire a lawyer and even then according to their attorney,
“The family produced the ATM receipts proving that had recently withdrawn the money. Beverly Greer had documentation for her disability check and her tax return. Even then, the police tried to keep their money.”
Even still the Greers still fared better than Jesus Zamora, who had to make $5,000 bail on a misdemeanor possession charge. His family is still fighting for their money back.
Zamora told the Huffington Post,
“My girlfriend borrowed some money from her sister and mother and a few friends, and they came to bail me out. But then they started asking her if she had brought drug money. They took the money away and said they were going to have the drug dogs sniff it. She asked them when I would be let out, and they told her, ‘He isn’t going anywhere’.” After the police seized Zamora’s bail money the same way they had done to Greer, “I stayed in jail for, I think, another 11 days. I lost count. I had never been arrested for drugs before. And this was for a really small amount. Seventeen painkillers, for which I had a prescription, and a small bag they say had traces of cocaine. And they say my girlfriend and I just had $5,000 in drug money lying around.”
Brown County Drug Task Force Director Lt. Dave Poteat tried to say that there was more to their stories than a drug dog barking, such as with the Greers that their ATM receipts had times which did not correspond to their story.
“Their stories didn’t add up. Their ATM receipts had the wrong times on them. And they were withdrawing from several different locations. The times just didn’t correspond to their stories.”
Civil Asset Forfeiture laws, provide the government a prescription to keep money or property they say is connected to a crime. The issue is they use a civil system, who requires the owners of the property to prove innocence instead of the other way around. The vast majority of people who lose property in this way have never been convicted of a crime. While the laws were made with the intention of helping the government seize the assets of drug kingpins the local police departments have used the laws as a way to generate revenue.
The practice of using drugs dogs makes it even worse because studies have shown that more than 90% of the money in circulation has some traces of drugs on it.
Poteat says it “isn’t unusual” for his task force to seize bail money under forfeiture laws. “I’d say we’ve done it maybe eight or nine times this year.”
Watch this video on Asset Forfeiture.