Philly Cops Skirting Forfeiture Restrictions By Seizing Cars As 'Evidence'

from the any-port-in-a-shitstorm dept

A couple of months ago, a consent decree drastically restructured Philadelphia's severely-abused asset forfeiture program. It didn't eliminate the program entirely, but it did eliminate the small-ball cash grabs favored by local law enforcement. The median seizure by Philly law enforcement is only $178, but it adds up to millions if you do it all the time. Small seizures like this now need to be tied to arrests or the property needs to be used as evidence in a criminal case.

Other restraints will hopefully eliminate local law enforcement's worst practices -- like seizing someone's house because their kid sold $40 of drugs to a police informant. It also should slow down seizures of whatever's in a person's pockets by forbidding forfeitures of under $250 entirely.

The consent decree obviously won't solve everything, and part of the problem is the consent decree itself. It forbids seizures of less than $1,000 unless the property is evidence in an ongoing case. Guess what local law enforcement is doing.

In November 2017, Iyo Bishop of Philadelphia was arrested on assault charges after a boyfriend, who she said was abusive, accused her of striking him with an SUV. City police picked her up after spotting the vehicle parked on the street weeks later. Bishop maintained her innocence but was cuffed and thrown in a squad car. She then watched in disbelief as an officer hopped in her 2002 Jeep Liberty and drove off.

Although the charges against Bishop were eventually dropped, she never saw her vehicle again. Police sold the Jeep at auction for $1,155 in storage fees they had assessed while the case made its way through the court system.

As this report by Ryan Briggs of The Appeal shows, the consent decree basically codifies this behavior. Cops seize vehicles when making arrests, ticking one of the requirement boxes. Then they claim the vehicle is evidence, ticking the other box.

Older vehicles worth less than $1,000 simply sit in impound lots racking up fees while the accused's case languishes in the court system. The vehicle can't be returned until the criminal case is processed, so it doesn't take long for impound fees to outweigh the vehicle's value. All of this is completely beyond the control of the person's whose car has been seized.

Even if charges are dismissed or the accused is cleared of wrongdoing, the car's owner still owes these fees. Every day they can't pay it, the total increases. Sooner or later, the vehicle will be auctioned. Now the innocent person has no vehicle and is still ultimately liable for uncollected fees.

This allows cops to make money on seized vehicles even if the vehicle isn't seized from someone suspected of criminal activity. It can happen to crime victims as well.

In 2014, Karin Foley and her husband, Willis, were moving from New York State to South Carolina when their vehicle blew a tire in Pennsylvania. When Willis Foley pulled the car over and got out to change the tire, a semi struck and killed him. Pennsylvania State Police later determined that the truck driver had been at the wheel for nearly 30 hours straight.

But the state troopers who responded to the accident impounded the Foleys’ diesel pickup and a horse trailer packed with their possessions as evidence. Like Bishop, Karin Foley never saw the truck, the trailer, or any of her belongings again.

The criminal case against the trucker dragged on for three years but never made it to trial. In May, he pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. State police called Foley a few months later to tell her that she had one week to travel to Pennsylvania—hundreds of miles from her South Carolina home—or they would auction her truck and trailer.

And auction it they did. The seized evidence was never used in court and local law enforcement immediately flipped the seized vehicle for unearned profit. To top it off, the coroner billed the widow $175 for her husband's body bag.

While it's understandable some property will be seized as evidence in criminal cases, fees shouldn't be charged to those found innocent or to victims of criminal activity. This is just another form of forfeiture that provides almost no avenue of recourse to property owners other than paying the government to give them back their stuff.


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 29 Nov 2018 @ 3:53pm

    I really don’t know which is worse: The story, or the fact that none of the details are all that surprising.

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

  • identicon
    Christenson, 29 Nov 2018 @ 4:08pm

    with luck...

    The new DA will decide a criminal prosecution of the cops here is worth the investment. See Timbs in the supreme court; this is an excessive fines thing.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2018 @ 4:10pm

    Towing and vehicle storage fees are a cash cow for police and private tow operators alike, a form of legalized ransom with little if any regulatory oversight.

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

  • identicon
    DOlz, 29 Nov 2018 @ 4:33pm

    Franz Kafka could have written this article and "The Metamorphosis” would have paled in comparison.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2018 @ 4:58pm

    If the police need a car for evidence, fine. But they shouldn't be able to charge the owner for storage if they are the ones claiming it needs to be stored for evidence.

    In fact, they should be the ones paying the owner - they are taking private property for public use, and the plain language of the 5th Amendment says that the owner should get "just compensation".

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2018 @ 5:53pm

      Re:

      Exactly what I came here to post. You can't hold "evidence" and charge the owner for the privilege of keeping it from them, then sell it. This is literally nothing but theft under the color of authority.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 1 Dec 2018 @ 7:14am

        Re: Re:

        The asset seizure laws in the first place are egregious and wrong and turn our LEOs into bona fide crime cartels to relieve the public of their cash and valuables, and which they are more than happy to do because it benefits them and the department so much. They target people who have nice cars so they can "seize" it for themselves. This is a fact not conjecture. And they have lavish parties too with the money to celebrate. I thinks there's a federal program that provides matching funds for local asset seizures in order to encourage more legalized thievery by the government thugs with guns.

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

        • icon
          nasch (profile), 5 Dec 2018 @ 8:21am

          Re: Re: Re:

          They target people who have nice cars so they can "seize" it for themselves. This is a fact not conjecture. And they have lavish parties too with the money to celebrate.

          Do you have any references for those?

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 30 Nov 2018 @ 11:17am

      Re:

      Any time police or government agencies seize property and store it as 'evidence' the fees related to that storage should be entirely on them, and if the property in question is such that a person reasonably needs it, like a car, then it should be legally required that they provide a temporary replacement for the duration that they have it, again on their dime.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    John Smith, 29 Nov 2018 @ 5:20pm

    Complaining about cops is only going to make them use the spikier batons on your pretty boy asshole, Mikey. I warned you libel investgations are ongoing.

    You're fucked, pirate boy.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2018 @ 5:25pm

      Re: So much projection

      The only way you can get off without viagra is to imagine gay gang rape scenarios.


      Fascinating

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

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        John Smith, 29 Nov 2018 @ 6:41pm

        Re: Re: So much projection

        Not my problem Mikey misses out on the pussy grabbing. Maybe he should have produced actual content lkie me, instead of stealing it and flogging it to his pirate choir. You don't get influence in Hollywood by being a pirate, butMasnick can't seem to graso that fact. Never mind. He will have plenty of time to grasp other things when he gets sent to prison for the grief he caused me.

        The same goes for eaxh and every one of you scummy pirate fanboys.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2018 @ 7:55pm

          Your beard looks like prison pussy

          Poor baby can’t get it up so he takes it out on everyone else.

          Bring it on old man.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2018 @ 5:57pm

      Re:

      I love reading random posts and realizing it is not relevant to the article and flagging it. It shows how much you are obsessed with this site. If I were Mike, I would get a restraining order against you and seize you arrested when you inevitably violate it. Having you in jail should increase the happiness level by everyone, including anyone who might be related to you.

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

    • identicon
      dr evil, 29 Nov 2018 @ 6:40pm

      Re: complaining bout the cops

      John Smith knows what he likes :-D likey the spikey apparently
      too bad you don't know what libel means
      caio...

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Nov 2018 @ 7:08am

      Re:

      MyNameHere just hates it when due process is enforced.

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

    • identicon
      I.T. Guy, 30 Nov 2018 @ 7:28am

      Re:

      "libel investigations(spelling corrected) are ongoing"

      Mr. Clarke. So good to see you again.
      Still an impotent little poodle I see.
      Some things never change.
      How's Brandy? Kid must be 4 or 5 by now.

      Maybe I will order some TechDirt goodies and have them sent to your house for xmas. You can give it to wiLLie Sr. so he will get something from you this year.

      Sound good Wilburt?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2018 @ 6:21pm

    Forget the legality, what saddens me is the lack of humanity.
    When I was in high school a lot of classmates had jobs at Kmart and would joke that it paid 4 bucks an hour and all you could steel.

    I guess the next step up from Kmart is law enforcement...

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 29 Nov 2018 @ 7:09pm

    That takes skill. Not the kind you want, but still

    But the state troopers who responded to the accident impounded the Foleys’ diesel pickup and a horse trailer packed with their possessions as evidence. Like Bishop, Karin Foley never saw the truck, the trailer, or any of her belongings again.

    The criminal case against the trucker dragged on for three years but never made it to trial. In May, he pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. State police called Foley a few months later to tell her that she had one week to travel to Pennsylvania—hundreds of miles from her South Carolina home—or they would auction her truck and trailer.

    And auction it they did. The seized evidence was never used in court and local law enforcement immediately flipped the seized vehicle for unearned profit. To top it off, the coroner billed the widow $175 for her husband's body bag.

    I must say, it takes some real dedication and practice to be that reprehensible of an asshole, that vile and disgusting an example of a human being. To look at someone who just had their husband killed right in front of them and have your first and apparently only though being, 'Yeah, this looks like an excellent time to make a quick buck.'

    And yet, as Steven noted in their comment, the only thing more disgusting than what the police and coroner did here is the fact that not one bit of it is surprising. At this point I can't find it in me to be surprised by any of their actions, even if I am utterly disgusted by the corrupt, abhorrent wastes of air that did those actions.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2018 @ 7:48pm

      Re: That takes skill. Not the kind you want, but still

      Since this article mentions someone from another state, perhaps we should sue the PA to get them to stop violating the rights of citizens.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Nov 2018 @ 7:06am

      Re: That takes skill. Not the kind you want, but still

      Know your ABCs - Always Be Confiscating

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2018 @ 7:43pm

    And they wonder why people call them pigs

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

  • icon
    Tobias Harms (profile), 29 Nov 2018 @ 11:35pm

    USA, who needs criminals when you have cops.

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

  • identicon
    Anon, 30 Nov 2018 @ 6:09am

    Brazil?

    In the movie Brazil, it opens with the Minister discussing how they charge "information storage" fees and "information retrieval" fees - essentially make political prisoners pay for their storage (incarceration) and interrogation. This was supposed to be a parody of how insidious a state could get in oppressing its citizens.

    Not so funny now...

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

  • icon
    discordian_eris (profile), 30 Nov 2018 @ 7:02am

    Addicted to seizures

    The one thing in common in all of these stories is the behaviour of the cops.

    They all exhibit the classic signs of being addicts. Instead of drugs or alcohol, they are addicted to seizures and forfeitures. They have become addicted to stealing from the public, plain and simple and no one can seem to rein them in.

    Maybe it is time for some enterprising lawyers to start filing lawsuits. Not aimed at the cops themselves, but at their enablers. Don't sue the cops, sue the cities and counties they work for. There are so many constitutionally suspect practices involved, they should be able to bankrupt many local governments and force wholesale changes in policies and practices.

    Of course, this assumes their buddies in the courts don't invent new ways to let them off the hook.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Dec 2018 @ 10:11am

      Re: Addicted to seizures

      Of course their buddies in court will protect them -- That's one of the main reasons for the court system to exist: they all protect each other. And please don't think the court system is somehow less corrupt than cops. The judges and courts are so much more powerful and therefore much more corrupt than the mobsters that make up the PD. The pigs are just their despicable thugs with guns they can send where needed to do their dirty business as thieves, professional assassins, issuer of infractions designed for maximum profit, and legalized kidnapping and extortion. I believe we actually have no idea of the depth of the corruption, malfeasance, breach of public trust, and depravity that is actually occurring in this evil network that was designed to keep us in line.
      Occasionally they throw one of theirs (usually a female cop or one of color) to the wolves as a sacrifice to make it look like they're "policing" themselves. This way they can weed out any honest cops, female cops, etc, whomever they don't like.
      THIS IS WHOM I FEAR: the government and their armed goons, the IRS, and any other government agency such as CPS etc. The IRS too can confiscate your entire bank balance if they don't like the way your cash is deposited. This form of asset seizure is especially egregious because many many small business owners have lost hundreds of thousands for this reason and you better believe they will never recover it even if found "innocent." I really don't fear too much other civilians robbing or harming me, but of these disgusting miscreants who will stop at nothing it seems and simply don't care if they destroy lives. The aristocracy of the USA (anyone who benefits from tax increases so pretty much anyone who works for the gov) is out of control and bent on enriching themselves off the backs of civilians. They are literally our lords and masters and there is nothing we can do, they have too much power and it will only get worse.

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

  • identicon
    Null_0, 30 Nov 2018 @ 7:04am

    How do you expect those brave men and women to serve and profit if you take this away from them!?

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

  • icon
    jcwconsult (profile), 30 Nov 2018 @ 11:41am

    Forfeiture

    Civil forfeiture without a conviction on a related crime is government larceny. The officials involved should be prosecuted for larceny - and if convicted should be barred from serving in governmental positions for life.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Dec 2018 @ 10:17am

      Re: Forfeiture

      Exactly.
      Here are my views (copied from a reply above). Thanks for reading.

      Of course their buddies in court will protect them -- That's one of the main reasons for the court system to exist: they all protect each other. And please don't think the court system is somehow less corrupt than cops. The judges and courts are so much more powerful and therefore much more corrupt than the mobsters that make up the PD. The pigs are just their despicable thugs with guns they can send where needed to do their dirty business as thieves, professional assassins, issuer of infractions designed for maximum profit, and legalized kidnapping and extortion. I believe we actually have no idea of the depth of the corruption, malfeasance, breach of public trust, and depravity that is actually occurring in this evil network that was designed to keep us in line.
      Occasionally they throw one of theirs (usually a female cop or one of color) to the wolves as a sacrifice to make it look like they're "policing" themselves. This way they can weed out any honest cops, female cops, etc, whomever they don't like.
      THIS IS WHOM I FEAR: the government and their armed goons, the IRS, and any other government agency such as CPS etc. The IRS too can confiscate your entire bank balance if they don't like the way your cash is deposited. This form of asset seizure is especially egregious because many many small business owners have lost hundreds of thousands for this reason and you better believe they will never recover it even if found "innocent." I really don't fear too much other civilians robbing or harming me, but of these disgusting miscreants who will stop at nothing it seems and simply don't care if they destroy lives. The aristocracy of the USA (anyone who benefits from tax increases so pretty much anyone who works for the gov) is out of control and bent on enriching themselves off the backs of civilians. They are literally our lords and masters and there is nothing we can do, they have too much power and it will only get worse.

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


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.