Sheriff's Deputy With History Of Misconduct Attempts To Extort $50,000 From Pulled Over Motorist
from the sold-out-by-his-own-dash-cam dept
Even when law enforcement officers know a camera is watching, some still choose to abuse their power. This isn't good news, especially as more law enforcement agencies are choosing to outfit their officers with cameras and mics (and allowing those officers to tamper, disable or break the equipment without consequence). The technology does have the potential to nudge both cops and citizens into more mutually respectful interactions, but this is being circumvented by officers who like cameras aimed at the public, but not so much at themselves.
In this case, lawyers were able to get ahold of dashcam footage revealing misconduct by a Humboldt County Sheriff's Deputy. This misconduct involved the abuse of asset forfeiture laws -- laws many law enforcement agencies seem to feel gives them permission to seize anything for any reason.
One deputy in particular is being singled out for his practice of pressuring travelers to abandon their money or face losing their cars as well. The I-Team has obtained exclusive dash-cam video from one of these drug interdiction stops. While no drugs were found, that didn't stop the deputy from grabbing the cash.The driver, Tan Nguyen, maintained that he won the money in Las Vegas. Whether or not he did was something the deputy could have made an effort to ascertain, but instead he chose to go down the extortion route.
"How much money you got?" Humboldt County Deputy Lee Dove can be heard asking on the video.
The dash-cam video gives insight into what some say is a pattern of questionable drug interdiction stops by Deputy Dove along I-80 near Winnemucca in northern Nevada.
The out-of-state motorist was stopped for doing 78 mph in an 75 mph zone. Deputy Dove finds $50,000 cash and $10,000 in cashiers checks during a search of the car.
Deputy Dove: "Well, I'm gonna search that vehicle first, ok?"But Deputy Dove never put his drug dog to work (itself a very iffy practice that often relies on an officer claiming the dog "alerted" when it was, in fact, reacting to stimulus from the officer). Instead, he offered a very shady "deal." Nguyen was free to go if he turned over the cash. If not, Dove was going to seize the car and everything in it.
Nguyen: "Hey, what's the reason you're searching my car?"
Deputy Dove: "Because I'm talking to you ... well, no, I don't have to explain that to you. I'm not going to explain that to you, but I am gonna put my drug dog on that (pointing to money). If my dog alerts, I'm seizing the money. You can try to get it back but you're not."
Nguyen: (inaudible) got it in Vegas."
Deputy Dove: "Good luck proving it. Good luck proving it. You'll burn it up in attorney fees before we give it back to you."
Dove has refused to speak about the incident, a decision at least partially guided by an ongoing investigation. The sheriff's department has admitted that proper procedures were not followed in a number of seizures, but that admission came after the fact. At the time of the seizure, the sheriff's office posted a photo of Dove with the cash, promoting the fact that the money would be used to help the sheriff's office fight crime. (This being crime located outside of the Sheriff's Department, apparently...)
But this statement seems to be little more than soothing words. Forfeitures are being filed at record rates in Humboldt County.
Twenty forfeiture cases — more than the previous four years combined — have been filed by the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office since March 14, the day the county announced settling two lawsuits over cash seizures that drew media scrutiny.This has prompted one lawyer to consider filing a class action lawsuit. More news of Deputy Dove's pay-to-play "policy" has also surfaced as a result of Nguyen's case.
Of the 20 forfeiture cases filed since last month in Humboldt County District Court, more than four exceeded $10,000 and the majority were filed as a result of Humboldt County Sheriff's Office traffic stops, the county clerk said.
The class-action lawsuit, yet to be filed as of Wednesday, says Trevor Paine of Wisconsin was stopped for allegedly speeding 84 mph in a 75 mph zone in November.So, there's a clear pattern of abuse, and it looks as though the Sheriff is finally being forced to confront the issue. The bill for deputy misconduct was footed by the citizens, of course, which isn't much of a deterrent for misbehaving officers and those who employ them. And if the number of seizures being filed is any indication, there's a good chance the public will be footing the bill again in the near future.
According to the complaint, Humboldt County Sheriff Sgt. Lee Dove "forcibly searched" the vehicle with a police K-9 because the dog acted as if there were drugs in the car. Dove failed to find drugs, but took $11,000 in cash from a lockbox, the complaint says.