Mississippi Law Enforcement Performed $200,000 Worth Of Illegal Forfeitures Because It 'Didn't Realize' Law Had Changed

from the ignorance-of-the-law-is-the-best-excuse dept

Ignorance of the law is no excuse, us lowly peons of the American justice system are told. The same does not apply to law enforcement, whose business it is to enforce laws. I mean, it's right there in the name. And yet…

Mississippi police agencies have been seizing cash, guns and vehicles without legal authority for months after a state law changed and police didn't notice.

An Associated Press review of a Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics database shows more than 60 civil asset forfeitures with nearly $200,000 in property taken by state and local agencies under a law that lapsed on June 30.

"Didn't notice." Try using that excuse the next time you, I don't know, hand someone a straw or... um... offer underweight ice cream to consumers. That's the AP's phrasing of the official excuse for law enforcement's inexplicable inability to stay abreast of laws affecting their work.

Here's what officials actually said, which uses more words, but doesn't sound any better.

Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Director John Dowdy said he didn't know the law had expired until September, when a Rankin County prosecutor notified him.

"Honestly, we were unaware of the sunset provision," he said. "We thought that had been fixed in the legislative session."

Now, this could be a legitimate excuse. But not for a narcotics director who probably had plenty to say about the impending demise of the most profitable part of the state's asset forfeiture program. He could not have been completely "unaware." After all, here he is announcing the roll out of a website listing state forfeiture actions as mandated by the same law Dowdy now claims he didn't know much about.

It might be a legitimate excuse for a federal official who may not know the legislature included a sunset provision that gave legislators a chance to kill the passed law before it went into effect. Some efforts were mounted to roll back the reforms, but they both died without moving forward.

Because law enforcement can't follow the law, lots of people will be getting their stuff back. The Tampa Bay Times article says the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics is offering to return $42,000 worth of property it illegally seized -- a phrase that makes its effort sound far more magnanimous than the reality: relinquishing stolen property.

But this screw up isn't going to keep it from seizing what it can, no matter how petty the amount. The thirty-day window on seizures under $20,000 is still open on a few cases, so law enforcement is still moving ahead with a few small-ball forfeitures.

Dowdy said agencies that seized property could still sue, seeking a judicially-sanctioned forfeiture, if less than 30 days elapsed. In Harrison County, for example, officials filed suit to seize $939 from Danielle Laquay Smith on Sept. 26, exactly 30 days after seizure.

The new law requires all forfeitures to be handled in court. The old law only required that on seizures above $20,000. There's more than $200,000 in illegal seizures on the books, and the potential return of $42,000-worth still leaves a lot unaccounted for. And much of that appears to be held by another person who can't keep track of legislative developments despite his position as a government official.

In northern Mississippi, District Attorney John Champion said, "I wasn't aware of that," when asked about the change. Police agencies in his five-county district, particularly in DeSoto County, have the majority of questionable seizures listed statewide.

Officers are Johnny-on-the-spot when it comes to perceived violations by citizens, but blissfully unaware of legal changes directly affecting their daily work. This is absurd. And it is the status quo. Prosecutors -- who directly benefit from forfeitures -- aren't aware either, most likely because knowing the law would adversely affect a valuable revenue stream. This is inexcusable, but it's also likely to go unpunished. The law is clear on the matter: negative effects of legislation shall be borne by the general public.


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  • icon
    Killercool (profile), 18 Oct 2018 @ 3:36pm

    Said it before, I'll say it again...

    If they don't need to know the laws they are enforcing, and can break the law as long as they do it in a new and innovative fashion, they shouldn't be able to call themselves "law enforcement."

    They should have to tell people they "work in arresting, also evidence collection and creation."

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2018 @ 3:49pm

      Re: Said it before, I'll say it again...

      Is the same crap as the Police lying to you to get you to do or say what they want. Then use your own words against you.

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

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2018 @ 9:14am

        Re: Re: Said it before, I'll say it again...

        so... which one of you are going to vote for any politicians looking to change this?

        O wait.... ha ha ha... keep bitching! It's working out REAL WELL!

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2018 @ 9:32am

          Re: Re: Re: Said it before, I'll say it again...

          Only in your universe is informing people "bitching".

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

        • identicon
          Chip, 19 Oct 2018 @ 10:16am

          Re: Re: Re: Said it before, I'll say it again...

          Did I mention hwo Cmart I am? I am Smart! So "very" VERY Smart. That is why I "spend" All Day "every" DAY in a Internet "CComments Section" telling everyone how Smart I AM, which is a thing that Smart people definately "Do"!

          Every Nation eats the Paint chips it Deserves!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2018 @ 3:59pm

      Re: Said it before, I'll say it again...

      No: they work in "legalized armed robbery."

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

      • icon
        Bergman (profile), 19 Oct 2018 @ 5:55am

        Re: Re: Said it before, I'll say it again...

        What's legalized about it? The only 'legalization' involved is their refusal to arrest themselves. By the same logic, almost any criminal is innocent on all charges because he didn't prosecute himself.

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

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 18 Oct 2018 @ 4:36pm

      Re: Said it before, I'll say it again...

      If they don't need to know the laws they are enforcing, and can break the law as long as they do it in a new and innovative fashion, they shouldn't be able to call themselves "law enforcement."

      It's called "qualified immunity."

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

      • icon
        Killercool (profile), 18 Oct 2018 @ 4:56pm

        Re: Re: Said it before, I'll say it again...

        Oh, I know. It just seems strange that they can claim to be "law enforcement" when they are "enforcing" laws that either:

        a) got removed from the books, or b) only ever existed in their heads.

        And somehow they are getting to keep 75% of the literally illegal forfeitures. Not just "that should be against the law," actually against the law. And they've only had to give back some of it - maybe. They might not have to give back any of it!

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

      • icon
        jaack65 (profile), 19 Oct 2018 @ 5:02am

        Re: Re: Said it before, I'll say it again...

        This isn't "qualified immunity." but legalized criminal activity.

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

  • icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 18 Oct 2018 @ 3:54pm

    At least...

    ...they're giving the stuff back.

    I fully expected to read further down in the article that some Court upheld the seizures based on the "good faith" idiocy.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2018 @ 3:56pm

      Re: At least...

      $200,000 was taken; of that, $42,000 is being returned.

      That's still $158,000 unaccounted for.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 18 Oct 2018 @ 8:13pm

        Re: Re: At least...

        They're giving some of the stolen property back. A fourth of it to be precise. The rest of it will likely have to be pried from their greedy little fingers via legal action.

        But yes, I fully expected them to try to keep it all as well.

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

        • identicon
          Paul Brinker, 18 Oct 2018 @ 9:53pm

          Re: Re: Re: At least...

          Ahh to be in the court when you sue to get your money back.

          Sir, this money was stolen "Under Color of Law". The officer took my money after the law expired.

          The dream would be for them to charge the officer, of course this will never happen.

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 18 Oct 2018 @ 4:39pm

    If only they faced half the justice we end up facing at their hands.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2018 @ 5:40pm

    Ladies and gentlemen, presenting... the heroes of out_of_the_blue!

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

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2018 @ 7:58pm

      Re:

      @ Ladies and gentlemen, presenting... the heroes of out_of_the_blue!

      What in the world does that mean?

      This site lookz nutz.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2018 @ 9:59am

      Re:

      Why was this truth censored?

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

      • icon
        The Wanderer (profile), 23 Oct 2018 @ 8:11am

        Re: Re:

        Someone keeps asking that question, even though the answer has been explained multiple times in the past - at least once, and I think at least twice, by me.

        If I keep seeing that question about the same repeated comments, I'm going to start flagging the question itself as being trolling, just as the comment to which it is a response is.

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

  • identicon
    norahc, 18 Oct 2018 @ 6:09pm

    Not really surprised at this one. After all, if cops can get away with ignorance of the Constitution, state laws don't stand a chance.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2018 @ 7:17pm

    interesting thing to me about all this is that when i was a youngster i developed a really low opinion of cops. not that i ever did anything beyond drive faster than the speed limit, but my every encounter lowered my opinion.

    what i never expected was that within my lifetime that assessment would become general information.

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

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 18 Oct 2018 @ 11:12pm

    If there's profit to be gained...

    If Mississippi Law Enforcement continues to get a steady income in being ignorant of the law, and there's no disincentive, they're going to stay ignorant of the law.

    No matter how many AP articles.

    No matter how often they're retrained.

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

  • icon
    jaack65 (profile), 19 Oct 2018 @ 5:00am

    **Miss. Seized Assets Database Doesnt Work**

    I went to the Miss. Dept Of Pub Safety website and there is a spot to click to search the asset forfeiture database. But the button doesn't work! The link to Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Seized Property Online Publications https://www.dps.state.ms.us/crime-investigation/bureau-of-narcotics/mississippi-bureau- of-narcotics-seized-property-online-publications/ takes you in a circle, to a page with a big blank box that says Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Seized Property Online Publications and nothing else. All Seized Property links take you in circles back to the few web pages that make this site. They seem to be going out of their way to prevent access to this database.

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

    • icon
      stderric (profile), 19 Oct 2018 @ 12:36pm

      Re: **Miss. Seized Assets Database Doesnt Work**

      https://www.forfeiture.ms.gov/

      ...the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics makes no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the contents of this site, and expressly disclaims liability for errors and omissions in the contents of this site. (Boilerplate, but sad & funny nonetheless.)

      Names appearing on this website are presumed innocent. (Their property, however, is presumed to be guilty as sin.)

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

  • icon
    jaack65 (profile), 19 Oct 2018 @ 5:18am

    Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Director JOHN DOWDY

    This guy JOHN DOWDY needs to be held to accounts by the Feds. but given the rule of lawlessness in the Washington Swamp, I see nothing good from the FBI. Cops can't investigate cops. Never worked before and never will in the future. We need independent oversight of police that is out of control police. The state's government laws have insulated police from even the egregious abuses of their power in murdering "suspects" on video. We can't depend on police who are there to enrich themselves and not to protect the public.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2018 @ 3:45pm

      Re: Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Director JOHN DOWDY

      Saddest part is, I think, the government is never at a loss for filling these positions. They just keep finding those who will do whatever the government wants.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2018 @ 3:51pm

        Re: Re: Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Director JOHN DOWDY

        And years ago not one person in the government had the balls or compassion to save Terry Schialvo's life. So her feeding tube was removed. God was watching then.

        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terri_Schiavo_case

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

        • icon
          Uriel-238 (profile), 19 Oct 2018 @ 5:01pm

          Terri Schiavo

          WTF? What does Terri Schiavo have to do with anything? Besides which when they pulled the plug, Schiavo didn't have any higher brain functions. She cared as much about living as Pluto cares about whether we call it a planet.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 21 Oct 2018 @ 1:47pm

            Re: Terri Schiavo

            Its a comment on the same dicks who are running the cop show. And how in the hell do you know about her brain function dick?

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

            • icon
              Uriel-238 (profile), 21 Oct 2018 @ 2:07pm

              If you really believed God was watching, I doubt you'd be deriding strangers.

              To answer your question Schiavo's autopsy report came out days after she was pronounced dead.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2018 @ 6:49am

    What ever happened to Law 'n Order in this god forsaken wilderness? /s

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

  • icon
    jcwconsult (profile), 19 Oct 2018 @ 7:27am

    Civil Forfeiture often = governmental larceny

    Civil forfeiture without a conviction for a related crime is governmental larceny. The officials involved should be prosecuted for larceny.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

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

  • identicon
    Glenn, 19 Oct 2018 @ 9:28am

    "We thought that had been fixed..."

    Well, yeah, it was "fixed", which is the whole point. I guess they'll have to resort to misappropriating money the old-fashioned way: budget malfeasance.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2018 @ 3:30pm

    The law had changed.. and the police didn't notice!

    I have some teriffic land for sale with easy access off alligator alley in south Florida I am selling dirt cheap! It has some dirt I swear!

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


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