South Carolina Cops Love Asset Forfeiture So Much They Take Cash From Crime Victims

from the 95-percent-of-somebody-else's-stuff-is-100-percent-profit dept

You’d think we wouldn’t need any more data points on asset forfeiture abuse, but since many states still allow law enforcement to steal cash and personal property from people never even accused of criminal acts, maybe more data points are needed to show lawmakers why this abhorrent practice should be ended.

The Greenville News has put together an in-depth report on asset forfeiture in South Carolina, culled from asset forfeiture cases run through the state’s court system. What it found is unsurprising, but still shocking. The article opens with a small sampling of injustices perpetrated by the criminal justice system.

When a man barged into Isiah Kinloch’s apartment and broke a bottle over his head, the North Charleston resident called 911. After cops arrived on that day in 2015, they searched the injured man’s home and found an ounce of marijuana.

So they took $1,800 in cash from his apartment and kept it.

When Eamon Cools-Lartigue was driving on Interstate 85 in Spartanburg County, deputies stopped him for speeding. The Atlanta businessman wasn’t criminally charged in the April 2016 incident. Deputies discovered $29,000 in his car, though, and decided to take it.

When Brandy Cooke dropped her friend off at a Myrtle Beach sports bar as a favor, drug enforcement agents swarmed her in the parking lot and found $4,670 in the car.

Her friend was wanted in a drug distribution case, but Cooke wasn’t involved. She had no drugs and was never charged in the 2014 bust. Agents seized her money anyway.

She worked as a waitress and carried cash because she didn’t have a checking account. She spent more than a year trying to get her money back.

Cash is king in South Carolina. Law enforcement loves taking it. Under the pretense of dismantling drug syndicates, law enforcement officers are taking money from waitresses, businessmen, and crime victims. Cash motivates law enforcement efforts — dubious drug-focused shakedowns that are often given far too much credibility by local journalists.

This is state where county sheriffs run week-long events with cool names like “Rolling Thunder” and claim they’re disrupting the flow of drugs. The reality is there’s no disruption. People are separated from their cash and other property, but arrests and convictions are almost impossible to find, despite the discovery of a few hundred pounds of illegal substances. In 2017, the Spartansburg County Sheriff’s Department pulled over more than 1,100 vehicles during an operation, searched 158 of them, recovered enough drugs to fill a table for a press conference, but only ended up with eight felony convictions. It did end up with $139,000 in cash, which was the actual focus of the “drug interdiction” activity.

The cases gathered from elsewhere in the state tell the same story: cash-hungry law enforcement agencies taking money from people and calling it a victory in the War on Drugs. African-Americans make up only 13 percent of the state’s population, but 65 percent of asset forfeiture cases target African Americans. If you’re white, you’re not only targeted less frequently but you’re twice as likely to get your property returned to you.

Since the state’s laws allow 95 percent of everything seized to go to the law enforcement agency performing the seizure, officers are far more focused on cash than securing convictions.

Nearly one-fifth of people who had their assets seized weren’t charged with a related crime. Out of more than 4,000 people hit with civil forfeiture over three years, 19 percent were never arrested. They may have left a police encounter without so much as a traffic ticket. But they also left without their cash.

And it’s rarely ever taken from dealers. More than half of all cash seizures involved less than $1,000, suggesting officers are more than happy to lift cash from users, leaving the flow of drug traffic completely uninterrupted.

The Greenville News has compiled several disturbing stories of asset forfeiture abuse in another article. These highlight the mercenary tactics of law enforcement agencies which often appear to take money just because they can. In one despicable episode, they searched a house after one of its residents was killed there. When officers found a small amount of drugs, they decided to take all the loose cash they could find, which included $1,700 in bag and $43 found on the kitchen counter. Then, the agency sent the notice of forfeiture to the man they knew was dead — the same person whose murder they were investigating. It took a court to call bullshit on this and force the agency to serve notice to the murder victim’s estate. Even then, the executor of his estate was only able to recover half the cash the officers took.

South Carolina is badly in need of asset forfeiture reform. Unfortunately, no one has been able to push a bill past the formative stages. Given the 95% profit ensured by current laws, any proposed reform is going to face stiff resistance from law enforcement agencies that will feel the state is stealing from them, rather than seeking to prevent them from stealing from citizens.

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Comments on “South Carolina Cops Love Asset Forfeiture So Much They Take Cash From Crime Victims”

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Anonymous Coward says:

People power-trip. Nothing new.

Even "good" people are extremely selective about recognizing injustice, rather than completely rooting it out. THEIR pet causes, yes, but not all injustice. We wind up with a society of selective enforcers and people who ignore stuff like this. Why should I even care since they’ll never seize anything from ME?

Every man and women for themselves, I say. Too bad about the seizures but it’s not my fight.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Every man and women for themselves, I say. Too bad about the seizures but it’s not my fight.

Which reminds me of the poem Martin Niemöller wrote:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

Saying "it’s not my fight" is the same as a tacit approval.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

You reach a point...

…on hearing of this type of thing where you just shake your head and wonder "WTF?"

But it’s worse than what the article details, or even what the Greenville News has brought to light.

Consider this:

"culled from asset forfeiture cases run through the state’s court system"

They’re only talking about the seizures of cash that went to court. You’re not going to get a lawyer to appear to petition for less than about a thousand dollars. So all those people the cops "seized" $500 or less aren’t going to file in court.

And they probably outnumber those who did file by an order of magnitude.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

But but but they were all bad people so stealing from them is totaly justified, good people would have no problem spending more of their money to get back their property!

The reform we need is requiring a conviction before they can grab everything to play keep away with.

Robbing the victims of crimes is pretty much the pinnacle of the dysfunction in the ‘justice’ system. You have a head wound & we helped ourselves to your cash because we searched your house, for your own safety, found pot & cha-ching!!!!!!

Its not happening to old white men so it isn’t a problem.. the poster child for this is Miss Lindsey Graham who sent a letter DEMANDING they look into how brutally they took down Roger Stone yet has not a damn thing to say about how police are robbing the citizens of his state.

This is yet another problem created by lawmakers & they refuse to fix it b/c they worry about losing police support for reelection.
So cops can execute you, strip search you on the side of the road, conduct medical experiments on you, rape you, murder you running away, miss a handgun while you are cuffed in the car & manage to shoot yourself in the head (and get your hands back behind you before expiring), stand on the hood of your car and empty several clips into you, rob you, steal your car or house b/c $10 of pot you knew nothing about… and its all perfectly okay because no court ever told them that was a violation of your rights… but police have the right to hide that they lie on the stand, in reports, use excessive force, were fired from 4 other departments, and anything else that might give the image of police a black eye.

Rocky says:

Re: Well, what's the alternative?

You object to having police operations run by capitalism.

I think you are confusing the word "police" for "thug" and the word "capitalism" for "oligarchy".

Do you really want pinko fairy commie officers scampering round the coffee machines? Or probably even tea dispensers?

Well, it would at least be amusing to watch them scamper around. Beats getting robbed I guess…

Where is your patriotism? Do you want the drugstores to win?

People talk about patriotism, but it is a word which have had it’s meaning distorted. It seems most of the people using it believes it means "If you don’t think like I do about our country, you are unpatriotic and a traitor!"

Re the drugstores, I thought that Walmart already had won…

David says:

Re: Re: Re:

If you divest yourself of the quaint notion that you are talking about disjoint sets, you can use the clothes for different distinctions. Like how likely the person is to get in trouble with their superior for gratuitously killing you. Private crime lords take a decidedly dimmer view with that kind of stuff than district attorneys.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: 'Dumb criminals go to jail. Smart criminals get a badge.'

If only.

The main difference between the two is that one of them is stupid and breaks the law without a badge, and therefore has to worry about being punished by the legal system if they get caught.

The other breaks the law(in the cases they haven’t gotten a ‘badge = immunity from the law’ exception anyway) with a badge, and not only doesn’t have to worry about being punished by the legal system if they get caught, more often than not the legal system will outright defend them.

bobob says:

And some people wonder why such an us vs. them mentality against the police exists. If you want to carry money, use a prepaid debit card. If the police confiscate that, report it stolen, cancel the card, have a new card sent and get the money out of the account, asap. Let the police deal with explaining why they are trying to get money from a stolen debit card.

That One Guy (profile) says:

'Calling the police: For when your day isn't bad enough yet.'

Stories like this are why I at least have reached the point where I consider police in the US as just another gang, albeit one that is far more dangerous than the majority of others.

At least when dealing with criminals without a badge if they try to rob you you can fight back, if they try to assault/kill you you can defend yourself. With a cop though? You’re screwed from the start, as they can rob/assault/imprison or even kill you and the courts and their buddies in blue will pat them on the back and/or look the other way.

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