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.

Filed Under: asset forfeiture, bob colbert, jeff gragg, law enforcement


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 11 Apr 2016 @ 1:36am

    Call me cynical but...

    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.

    No, no it won't

    That they were actually indited is insanely unlikely, the odds of the prosecution being willing to treat the accused as they would anyone else doing the same, rather than deliberately making as weak a case as possible to let them off the hook is even more unlikely.

    While I would love to be proven wrong here numerous past examples of the special treatment anyone with a badge gets in court has me very strongly expecting that they'll get off with a wrist slap at worst, and if they do end up fired their union will throw a fit until they're hired back to their previous positions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Coyne Tibbets (profile), 11 Apr 2016 @ 6:28am

      Re: Call me cynical but...

      I think you're right: this will probably get bargained down to misdemeanor thumb-wrestling or similar.

      But I bet that's not the only thing: it looks to me like the motorist is open to a charge of making a bribe. Betcha that doesn't get bargained down...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        any moose cow word, 11 Apr 2016 @ 7:33am

        Re: Re: Call me cynical but...

        It's not exactly a "bribe" when the officer was the one making the offer. Not that would stop the DA from trying anyway.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Coyne Tibbets (profile), 12 Apr 2016 @ 12:57pm

          Re: Re: Re: Call me cynical but...

          So? It's not hard to see the cops/prosecutor from interpreting his eagerness to agree as bribery.

          Never underestimate the ability of police to escape responsibility by dumping it on the citizen.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Capt ICE Enforcer (profile), 11 Apr 2016 @ 3:38am

    Come on now, people don't go to jail or prison for non violent crimes. That would be silly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      klaus (profile), 11 Apr 2016 @ 4:07am

      Re:

      I find it depressing that people are going to jail for victimless crimes...

      What you have in the States with asset forfeiture is beyond comical.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2016 @ 4:19am

      Re:

      This is a good point, we should be calling this "armed robbery" rather than "extortion".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2016 @ 7:05am

        Re: Re:

        Taking anything by law enforcement without a warrant IS "armed robbery"! So you are correct, this is exactly what we should be calling this!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2016 @ 4:41am

    Vegas wouldn't even take bets on if these 2 will actually be convicted of anything. At the worst they'll probably make some deal so they get a little slap on the wrist or maybe early retirement, with full pension of course, and the guys they stole the money from probably won't even get their money back in the end.

    Sadly this is what's considered "law enforcement" in the US these days and it's only getting worse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Geno0wl (profile), 11 Apr 2016 @ 6:09am

    Insane

    The fact the supreme court allows any of this and it not being a clear violation of due process still blows my mind.
    What the holy fuck were they thinking.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 11 Apr 2016 @ 6:12am

      Re: Insane

      'Rights are only for the innocent', or perhaps 'No cost is too high in the drug war'.

      There really is no good excuse for such blatant theft by those that should be tasked with reducing crime, not committing it under cover of a badge.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2016 @ 6:12am

    choice of words.

    what we clearly see is the true point of having law enforcement. this has been the point all along, but the recklessness of it now shows there is no need anymore to play games. just grab peoples' stuff if they aren't wealthy enough to have the right connections.

    we are canada's mexico. we don't even try to hide it anymore.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2016 @ 6:21am

    They deserve to be in jail

    When a person can so casually do something like this from their position of authority, it isnt a first time mistake. It is from a pattern of behavior and this one just happened to get ahead of itself a bit and got caught.

    Happy to see them go.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    jaded consumer, 11 Apr 2016 @ 7:01am

    feat of clay

    Hay Zeus teats, when you think they can't sink any lower...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    got_runs? (profile), 11 Apr 2016 @ 9:24am

    The United Police State of America.

    It will only get worse. The dogs are already loose and running.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2016 @ 2:30pm

    Good to see this terror plot getting nipped in the bud. Repeal the Patriot/Freedom act too while you are at it. I still can't believe they started this shenanigans again after curtailing it. The war on poverty, the war on drugs, the war on terror. I guess the next war will be on the citizenry? Damned oligarchy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    McFortner (profile), 11 Apr 2016 @ 4:03pm

    What about the Constitution?

    "Constitution? Constitution? We don't need no stinkin' Constitution!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2016 @ 4:12pm

    These cops only got in trouble because they illegally altered their arrest records. Had they done everything by the book, they could have kept the victim's money and got off.

    Civil asset forfeiture is much like bribery. It only becomes a crime when the paperwork is out of order.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      klaus (profile), 12 Apr 2016 @ 12:06am

      Re:

      Bribery - you raise an interesting point.

      If you're caught carrying large amounts of cash, and are, in fact, actually in the illegal drug trade, is it a stretch to suppose that with this level of skewed priorities and dishonesty in the police that you could easily bribe your way out of charges? "Don't book this in, officers, just take the cash, it's yours".

      What I'm suggesting is that with the current mindset of liberating cash and goods, the "War on Drugs" going nowhere, guilty people just might be getting off being charged, whilst innocent people are flat out being robbed.

      I don't think asset forfeiture was thought through very well.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Justme, 11 Apr 2016 @ 4:49pm

    Is it just me. . .

    The war on drugs sure give's me a greater respect for the law and law enforcement. But, I'm always Bass Aackwards :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2016 @ 7:26pm

    Bribery

    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.

    In other parts of the world, we call that bribery and it's a serious offence.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Quick Brown Fox, 12 Apr 2016 @ 5:13am

    How is this any different than an American tourist driving in Mexico, who is pulled over by a cop, then shaken down for cash to avoid being taken to jail?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 12 Apr 2016 @ 6:05am

      Re:

      In this case, the cops actually managed to get indicted for it.

      But you're right -- outside of this freak occurrence, there is no difference whatsoever.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 12 Apr 2016 @ 6:18am

      Re:

      The Mexicans don't operate under the pretense of legality.

      Which makes the indiction so surprising. Maybe the grand jury confused the defendants with a ham sandwich.

      Nothing will come of it, of course: courts have established that officers operating under the delusion of legality are still entitled to the results of their delusion, and in this case there are enough rulings and guidelines that their indictment must have come as a total surprise to them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      mb (profile), 12 Apr 2016 @ 9:51am

      Re:

      The difference is really just a technicality. In Mexico, it is still illegal for a cop to take money without pressing any charges and it goes directly into the cop's pocket: It's considered bribery and corruption. In the USA they have made it legal for police to take cash from you without pressing any charges, but it doesn't go DIRECTLY into the cop's pockets. It goes into their next year's budget and a raise/bonus for the cops that did the seizing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Apr 2016 @ 7:30am

    The difference is how the statement is worded?

    So he just phrased it wrong?! If the officer responded with " I can't answer that. Now, I'll need to take in the owner of the money. Do you want to claim it?" That'd be ok?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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