Police are accused of stealing $160,000 from a man at a traffic stop in what critics are calling a case of “policing for profit.”
The incident happened in December 2011 along Tennessee’s Interstate 40 in Dickson County. Video obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates showed an Indian-American businessman pulled over by police.
The officers found $160,000 the man had on board, and an interdiction officer from the 23rd Judicial District Drug Task Force seized the large sum, claiming it might be drug money.
Though critics are accusing the police of stealing the $160,000, they actually acted within the law. Police agencies have the authority to seize large sums of money on suspicious that it is drug money. Critics say police target out-of-state drivers who often are minorities, and have taken the money with little to no evidence that it is drug-related.
It can take a long time for the driver to get the money back, which comes after a costly court process.
In the Tennessee case, the officer brought the $160,000 to the federal government, tying it up for even longer.
After money is seized, federal agencies have 90 days to file a forfeiture action. The property owner then has 30 days to file a claim, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office can delay the process another 90 days to file a formal lawsuit. The delays only continue from there.
In the case of the Indian-American businessman, he didn’t get his $160,000 back until the next year.
“It does show that the government did not have a very strong case,” said Darpana Sheth, an attorney with the conservative-leaning Institute for Justice.
But for others with smaller sums, the lengthy court process is often too much. Police seize $5,000 or $10,000, and it would end up costing the person more on attorneys and court fees to get it back, critics claim.
The person also must prove that the money is legitimate and not connected to drugs, which critics say violates the idea of “innocent until proven guilty.”
Some agencies have won victories for individuals after police seized money from them. In 2009, the Southern Poverty Law Center has won the return of almost $20,000 to a Latino migrant farm worker who had money seized despite the fact there were no charges brought against him.
The man who had $160,000 seized by police finally gave in, offering them $5,000 to return his money. He got only $155,000 back.