Iowa Taxpayers Handing Out $60K Settlement To California Gamblers Who Were Legally Robbed Of $100K By State Troopers
from the we'll-keep-taking-stuff-as-long-as-you-guys-keep-giving-til-it-hurts dept
A couple of years ago, two victims of Iowa’s
Snatch and Grab drug interdiction team saw $100,000 in cash disappear into the pockets of state police following a dubious traffic stop. The state ultimately returned 90% of the seized cash to the California natives, but not before calling in a tip to California law enforcement to cause additional problems for them once they returned home.
The Iowa State Police’s Fishing Expedition Unit noted — during its attempt to retain “ownership” of money it couldn’t prove was connected to anything illegal — that the two Californian poker players set off all sorts of “suspicious behavior” alarms when stopped, including indicators that contradicted other indicators. From the 2014 lawsuit:
Defendant Desert Snow and Joe David’s training taught Trooper Simmons that completely innocent behaviors were indicators of criminal activity, including:
Dark window tinting
Air fresheners or their smell
Trash littering a vehicle
An inconsistent or unlikely travel story
A vehicle on a long trip that is clean or lacks baggage
A profusion of energy drinks
A driver who is too talkative, or too quiet
Signs of nervousness, such as sweating, swallowing or redness of face
Designer apparel or other clothing that seems inappropriate
More than three years later, Iowan taxpayers are going to have to reach into their own pockets to finish paying the interdiction unit’s tab.
Iowa announced Monday that it has disbanded its state forfeiture team and — in a separate move — also agreed to pay $60,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by two California gamblers whose bankroll was seized during a warrantless search in 2013 by two Iowa State Patrol troopers.
The other good news is the disbanding of the “state forfeiture team,” as the Des Moines Register honestly calls it. The State Police preferred to call its highway banditry something less patently obvious: “Criminal Interdiction Team” and, later, “Special Operations Unit.” Honestly, it could have just been called the Nottingham Sheriff’s Department Revenue Diversion Unit. Data compiled by the Quad-City Times shows the unit did most of its “work” within five miles of the state border.
The busiest single location for traffic stops in Iowa was near mile marker 5 on I-80 not far from the Nebraska border. The specially trained troopers issued 785 tickets and warnings there as part of the 4,027 citations and warnings issued in Pottawattamie County.
The easiest money often comes from people just passing through. Travel to and from nearly any state can be viewed as “suspicious” by law enforcement officers — as can nearly any and all driver behavior. Here’s a fantastic bit of suspicioning from another member of the state’s Legalized Theft Team, as called out by the judge tossing out evidence obtained during a warrantless search.
As for the trooper’s assertion that Hanrahan was still nervous even after he was told he would only receive a warning, nervousness alone, under these circumstances, did not generate reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to provide grounds for a warrantless search. See United States v. Guerrero, 374 F.3d 584, 590 (8th Cir.2004)(“[I]t cannot be deemed unusual for a person to exhibit signs of nervousness when confronted by an officer.”); Beck, 140 F.3d at 1129(same). The trooper’s reliance on this factor is particularly questionable to the extent it was based on Hanrahan’s apology for speeding and his statement that “he would absolutely slow down.” In the trooper’s view, Hanrahan’s response was suspicious because “most people that aren’t doing something wrong, they are almost offended that you stopped them for a minor violation instead of someone else.” In our view, nothing in Hanrahan’s courteous and respectful answer could be construed as suspect.
The “interdictions” will not halt completely, however. They’ll just be more distributed.
Jeff Thompson, also of Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller’s office, told the board Monday that the Iowa Department of Public Safety had disbanded the interdiction team. He said state and local law enforcement agencies may continue to pursue forfeitures but not under the concerted effort of the longtime interdiction team. He said the decision to disband was not based on Monday’s settlement.
“It (the interdiction team) essentially led to a number of stops and seizures,” Thompson said. “The whole process, that whole concept, has been somewhat under attack.”
The interdiction team was dismantled because of increased personnel demands, including increased focus to reduce Iowa traffic deaths, said Sgt. Nathan Ludwig of the Iowa State Patrol. There are no plans to resurrect the team. The troopers assigned to the interdiction unit have been reassigned to general patrol duties, he said.
At least the attorney general’s office recognizes civil asset forfeiture is, at the very least, controversial. The reassignment of officers should break up the campouts on the Nebraska border, but there will still be ample opportunities to turn routine traffic stops into Diving for Dollars. At the very least, traffic patrol officers might be a bit more focused on preventing deaths than preventing any seizable cash from escaping the state.