Sheriff And Deputy Somehow Manage To Screw Up Forfeiture Badly Enough To Be Indicted On Extortion Charges
from the a-miraculous-aligning-of-the-stars,-coupled-with-brazen-stupidity dept
In what I’m sure is a very confusing situation for Sheriff Bob Colbert and Deputy Jeff Gragg, prosecutors are bringing conspiracy and extortion charges against the pair for an act normally deemed perfectly acceptable. (via HuffPo)
The state’s multicounty grand jury on Thursday indicted Colbert, 60, and Capt. Jeff Gragg, 48, on three felony counts. The grand jury also called for Colbert’s immediate suspension and eventual removal from public office on misconduct grounds.
The sheriff and Gragg are accused in the indictment of extorting a motorist and his passenger into disclaiming any interest in $10,000 seized from a 2014 Dodge Avenger during the traffic stop on Dec. 13, 2014.
The situation is not unlike hundreds of others that have occurred over the years. Colbert and Gragg stopped a motorist, found cash and drug paraphernalia, seized the cash and then proceeded to not file criminal charges against the driver.
That is civil asset forfeiture. The money is “guilty” even if the person carrying it isn’t. The only thing out of the ordinary was the officers’ decision to tell the people in the car that they wouldn’t be bringing charges — not if they handed over the $10,000.
The motorist at one point told the sheriff’s captain he was on parole and asked what he needed to do to keep out of jail, according to the indictment. “Gragg responded the only way … Wallace was going to go home that day was to disclaim his ownership in the $10,000,” according to the indictment.
Gragg two days later opened a sheriff’s drug forfeiture account in the Wagoner County treasurer’s office and deposited the $10,000, according to the indictment.
Nifty trick, that. If you can get a “perp” to disclaim ownership of seized property, it makes it much easier to keep it. No challenges in court. No one suddenly dropping by the courtroom with evidence of the money’s legal origin.
As the sheriff’s attorney points out, the law normally allows law enforcement to carry out this form of theft.
The sheriff’s attorney called the traffic stop in 2014 a routine drug interdiction and a lawful cash seizure of drug funds.
“The funds are not missing and are accounted for,” she said. “The sheriff’s office timely deposited every cent of this money in the county’s treasurer account as required by state law.”
What you can’t do is demand someone disclaim ownership in exchange for a Get Out of Jail Free card. You also can’t delete booking records, which has also been alleged.
But this does show just how sketchy the entire process of asset forfeiture is. Because most states have no conviction requirement for asset seizures, the same thing happens day after day across the nation. The only difference between legalized theft and an illegal act is the officer’s choice of words.
Challenging a seizure isn’t an easy process and the success rate of those who do isn’t very encouraging. It also can be very expensive — sometimes costing more than the amount recovered. There’s simply no excuse for making an easy job (seizing and keeping cash) even easier. In all likelihood, the Sheriff’s office wouldn’t have pursued charges anyway, considering it already had the cash.
For far too many law enforcement agencies, the introduction of any semblance of due process is cutting “guilty” people and their “guilty” money far too much slack. It also lowers the chance of them holding onto the money. So, it’s considered to be a waste of law enforcement resources, even if most officials will never go on record as holding this belief. In this case though, all the officers needed to do to hold onto the money was take it and SHUT UP. But they couldn’t resist lording their power over a parolee with $10,000 in his vehicle. And now it might cost them something far more valuable: their freedom.