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.

Filed Under: asset forfeiture, civil asset forfeiture, legalized theft, police funding, south carolina, stealing


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jan 2019 @ 12:19pm

    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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Jan 2019 @ 12:31pm

      Re:

      Thank you for your lack of meaningful input. I have decided your opinion is bad and shall proceed to ignore you. Have a nice day.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Jan 2019 @ 12:35pm

      Re:

      Something something trade unionists.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Jan 2019 @ 12:36pm

      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.

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 31 Jan 2019 @ 12:39pm

      Re:

      Too bad about the seizures but it's not my fight.

      And there you stand, the good man doing nothing.

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

  • icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 31 Jan 2019 @ 12:29pm

    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.

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

  • identicon
    Anon.E.Mouse, 31 Jan 2019 @ 1:14pm

    I'd say the city owes everyone 10x what was *STOLEN*

    And it comes right from the officers' paychecks, then the city/county coffers.

    Once the cops realize that their own paychecks are forfeit, I think this shit will stop.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jan 2019 @ 1:21pm

    Asset forfeiture is the sort of thing you'd expect in a dystopian environment, not in North America.

    Although given a Russian puppet is president in the US, dystopia doesn't seem far off.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jan 2019 @ 2:03pm

    This country is FUCKED.

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 31 Jan 2019 @ 2:15pm

    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.

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

    • icon
      wshuff (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 5:52am

      Re:

      If only Roger Stone wasn’t destitute and the FBI had helped themselves to the cash he had stashed in the bust of Richard Nixon’s head he keeps on the mantle. Then Fox News would be demanding that somebody do something about forfeiture and we’d get 16 hours of committee testimnohy on C-Span.

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

  • identicon
    David, 31 Jan 2019 @ 2:29pm

    Well, what's the alternative?

    You object to having police operations run by capitalism. Do you want to have them run by communism instead?

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

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

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

    • identicon
      Rocky, 31 Jan 2019 @ 3:01pm

      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...

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

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 31 Jan 2019 @ 3:22pm

      Patriotism / Drugstores

      What's good for the drugstore -- I thought -- was good for America.

      Granted, when the mob does it, it's organized crime. When the pharmaceutical companies do it, it's enterprise!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jan 2019 @ 2:42pm

    Often the main difference between police and criminals is their clothing.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Jan 2019 @ 3:05pm

      Re:

      Often the -only- difference between police and criminals is their clothing.

      There fixed it for you.

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

      • identicon
        David, 31 Jan 2019 @ 3:27pm

        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.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 12:08am

      '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.

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

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 31 Jan 2019 @ 3:20pm

    To quote The Tick (paraphrased)

    We're not here to stop crime. We're here to fight crime.

    Why would South Carolina Law Enforcement actually do work to reduce drugs when they profit from the industry so much?

    Can we call this Police Theater?

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

  • icon
    Matthew Cline (profile), 31 Jan 2019 @ 4:51pm

    Also to quote The Tick:

    "Spoooooooooon!"

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

  • identicon
    bobob, 31 Jan 2019 @ 7:10pm

    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.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 12:16am

    '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.

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

  • icon
    Ed (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 8:59am

    Every day more and more evidence is revealed proving that the most dangerous and evil gang operating in this country wears a badge and is given license by the government to operate with impunity. They are referred to as "cops".

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

  • icon
    jcwconsult (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 5:33pm

    Civil forfeiture should be allowed only after a criminal conviction for a related crime. Anything else is theft and all the officials involved should be prosecuted for larceny, with jail time if they are convicted. James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2019 @ 7:51am

    The police are like Carmen Sandiego. Like her they rob people first to keep the real bad guys from getting their hands on the loot. So you see, the officers weren't stealing money from the dead guy. They were keeping it "secure" so the real bad guys couldn't steal it and use it for more crimes.

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


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