Forfeiture abuses


According to a federal lawsuit filed by David Guillory, a civil rights attorney in nearby Nacogdoches, cops in the little town of Tenaha, Texas -- along a heavily traveled state highway connecting Houston with several popular gambling destinations in Louisiana -- have seized cash and property, up to and including their cars, from some 200 motorists between 2006 and 2008.

Tenaha police contend they're using the asset seizure laws to curb drug trafficking. But Mr. Guillory's lawsuit contends only 50 of those 200 drivers were ever charged with a drug-related crime. Another 147 were simply sent away after being pressured into signing a waiver to give up their property.

In one instance, the Los Angeles Times reports, a grandmother from Ohio gave up $4,000 after police pulled her over. In another, a Houston couple coughed up more than $6,000 after police threatened to seize their children and put them in foster care.

And when Mr. Guillory managed to track down and contact 40 of the motorists directly, guess what? All but one were black.

"The whole thing is disproportionately targeted toward minorities, particularly African-Americans," Mr. Guillory told the Times last week. "None of these people have been charged with a crime; none were engaged in anything that looked criminal. The sole factor is that they had something that looked valuable."

Well, Tenaha cops sure put a quick stop to that.

Here we go again. TV documentaries exposed this kind of willful abuse of the asset seizure laws along interstates in southern Florida, years ago.

How many Americans have to be subjected to this nonsense before Congress repeals or massively overhauls and limits the use of asset seizure laws that charge the car, the boat or the money as the guilty party, placing the onus on the "former" owner to retain costly lawyers, return to the scene of the highway robbery and fight an uphill battle against a presumption of guilt?

Various Washington figures have been warning bailed-out bankers and other Americans not to go to Las Vegas and "have a good time on our money," of late.

Maybe it's time for them to tell Americans of all colors to stay the hell out of Tenaha, Texas.

 

Rules for posting comments

Comments posted below are from readers. In no way do they represent the view of Stephens Media LLC or this newspaper. This is a public forum. Read our guidelines for posting. If you believe that a commenter has not followed these guidelines, please click the FLAG icon next to the comment.