Category Archives: Police Abuse

Civil Forfeiture, or Why Keeping Cash in a Shoebox is Good Idea

The Growing Problem of Civil Forfeiture Abuse

Spirit Lake, Iowa:  Mrs. Lady’s Mexican Food has been owned and operated for 38 years by Carole Hinders.  Carole has always preferred to accept only cash payments, so frequent bank deposits were necessary in order to keep from having too much cash on hand at her restaurant.   One day in August 2013, the IRS unexpectedly seized her entire bank account, totaling just shy of $33,000.  It was a clear-cut case of civil forfeiture abuse.  Read more about it at Breitbart.

Long Island, New York:  Bi-County Distributors has been owned by brothers Mitch and Richard Hirsch for 27 years. Their business distributes candy and snacks and other small food items to a number of convenience stores in their area.  Many of their clients pay cash on delivery, so that means that they need to make frequent bank deposits for their own safety.  Then one day in May, 2012, federal agents seized their entire business bank account, which contained a balance of around $446,000.  The federal abuse of civil forfeiture laws was once again the root cause of the near ruination of yet another successful and legitimate family business.

 Abusive Federal Authority Again

Those are just two of numerous examples of a growing form of abuse of federal authority.  These two cases involved the confiscation of cash assets. Numerous other cases involve the confiscation of property in all forms.

If the term Civil Forfeiture means nothing to you yet, you had better start learning about it fast, especially if you operate business which accepts a significant amount of payment in cash.  The IRS is on a mission to find any excuse they can to literally rob you of your hard earned money.

What is Civil Forfeiture?

Civil forfeiture is the act of government confiscation of your property with no accountability whatsoever on their part.  All that’s necessary to trigger it is someone in a law enforcement agency who claims suspicion of a victim’s criminal involvement.  Your property can be taken without you even being charged with any crime.  Depending on conditions of the situation, your vehicle, your home, or all of the cash from your bank accounts could be taken.

Worse yet, because you have not been charged with a crime, civil forfeiture leaves you without the legal protection you would have enjoyed if you really were a criminal!  Neither do any rules exist to control what the confiscating law enforcement agencies may do with the stolen, er, I mean, confiscated property.

One might reasonably expect your confiscated property to go into some kind of protected escrow status. But in fact, in 42 states, confiscating agencies simply keep what they have confiscated and use it as their own.  No law regulates them. It makes no difference if it is cash, vehicles, real estate, or anything else.

Such a rule of law, if it can be called that, provides law enforcement agencies with an incentive to falsely seize as much property as they possibly can.  And they do!

 On what basis are bank account assets seized?

Federal law now requires that banks notify federal agencies whenever a cash sum totaling over $10,000 is made into any bank account.  Such reporting is designed to tip off authorities to the possibility of illegal business acivity.  The war on drugs has contributed to the motivation for such law and invasion of privacy.  As invasive as that law is on personal business, did you know that your deposits may be under continual scrutiny by the IRS, whether or not you make deposits over $10k?

If you happen to have a business which generates a lot of income on a cash basis, you can be accused of “structuring” your deposits by consistently keeping them under $10k.  There do not seem to be any guidelines for federal agents to use to define what constitutes “structuring”.  If you make a series of large deposits of less than $10k, you might be accused of “structuring” your deposits to avoid IRS scrutiny.

In the act of IRS monitoring of your perfectly legal activity of depositing cash sums of several thousand dollars, you have already been scrutinized.  In fact it seems perfectly logical that if you were already aware of the $10k trigger value, you might very well for your own good be attempting to structure your deposits to avoid being targeted as a possible illegal operation.  Who wouldn’t want to avoid being targeted as an illegal operation, especially if you are really 100% legitimate?

Property owners who find themselves caught up in the forfeiture abuse system often spend weeks, months, sometimes years, without having an opportunity to appear before a judge. Too many victims are compelled to simply give up.  They never did anything wrong, but it’s just too pointless and too expensive to continue fighting.
In one well documented analysis of federal civil forfeiture cases, it has been shown that 80 percent of those whose property the federal government seized were not charged with any crime.  This is no better than legalized theft!

Make the federal government accountable, and stop the war on drugs

In order to stop the abuse of civil forfeiture, we clearly have two choices. The practice of civil forfeiture must either be totally abolished, or it must be carried out with accountability.

This abuse of property rights could easily be reduced by 80% by making the legitimate criminal arrest of every victim a prerequisite to property seizure.

“Legitimate” is a key word, and that’s why I lean towards its total abolition. Most cases of legally valid civil forfeiture revolve around illegal and victimless drug crimes.  The legalization of drugs would result in the elimination of a vast part of the underground syndicate. Grounds would then no longer exist to prosecute the greater portion of the remaining 20% of civil forfeiture cases.

Then the federal government  wouldn’t even need to take property away from people anymore, would it?  Or did they ever really need to? Liberty makes life so much simpler.

 

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Millions of Tax Dollars Spent to Defend Police Abuse – Your Money Squandered

police target suspected gun owner in no knock raid

 

Millions of Tax Dollars Regularly Spent to Defend Police Abuse

by Stirling Watts

Are you a tax paying resident in a large American metropolitan city?  Are you concerned about the accountability of the your hard earned tax dollars?

A recent Russia Today article revealed that in New York City alone over the last five years, nearly half a billion in tax dollars were used to pay settlements to plaintiffs in cases of civil rights violations against citizens – civil rights violations perpetrated by the police.  Yes, that’s right – legal settlements, payoffs, large sums of money paid from pubic taxpayer coffers to compensate for civil rights abuses wrongfully carried out by police officers.

Documents that were recently made available to the public by the New York City Law Department revealed that these payoffs totaled more than $428 million, and  were the result of more than 12,000 such civil rights cases that have been processed through the New York City court system from 2009 until now, October 2014.

Those are huge amounts of money for just one city to have paid out to compensate for abusive, illegal, actions carried out by paid professional police officers —- and we are talking about New York City alone.  Just imagine how much money is being squandered the very same way in other major metro areas of the United States.  If you’re an American, you know which cities I mean – the ones constantly in the news for police abuse.  Really, if you watch the non-mainstream news, you know that means that virtually all of our cities are guilty.

Let’s think about the basic moral aspects that drive this abuse of taxpayer dollars.  We’re talking about taxpayer dollars spent to defend countless unconstitutional actions carried out in supposed “good faith” by law enforcement agencies dealing with crimes which are, for the most part, completely victimless.

To begin with, how many cases of police abuse should we reasonably expect to hear about each year?  In an imperfect human world, we might expect that every law enforcement agency will experience at least a blip on the radar of individual problems with officer or agent misbehavior.  That’s just human nature.  But, shouldn’t the sum total number of abusive police actions reported every year amount to no more than a few isolated instances, caused by a tiny number of bad cops?

And when those inevitable cases of bad behavior do rear their ugly heads, shouldn’t we expect law enforcement agencies to implement immediate and appropriate correctional actions?  Why is it that following every deadly shooting by a police officer, regardless of the sequence of events that led to the incident, officers who have discharged their weapon killed someone are routinely put on paid administrative leave?  Isn’t something missing in the individual accountability and responsibility requirements expected of the average American law enforcement officer?

If that’s not a relevant issue, then how is it that just last year, New York City paid more than $96 million (yes, that’s right, $96 million!) in settlements to citizen plaintiffs whose civil rights were abused by NYC cops?  Even more amazing is that Mayor Bloomberg, at least according to the claims of the Russia Today article, regularly shrugs these numbers off as irrelevant.  As a taxpayer in New York City, would you also find these figures irrelevant?

A  bigger moral dilemma, and the “war on drugs”

This excessive abuse of taxpayer funds is only a part of an even bigger moral dilemma.  Is it morally sound public policy for police departments to pay off victims whose civil rights have been violated by police with massive amounts of money taken from the taxpayers – taxpayers who quite reasonably expect the responsible use of public funds?

On the other hand, when any citizen’s civil rights are violated as the result of irresponsible police behavior, are those citizens not rightfully due compensation for the wrongs done to them?  Of course they are, and who then is to pay for the wrongs committed by our public servants?

When anyone does wrong, is not the wrongdoer the final responsible party?  Why, then, is the responsibility laid on the taxpayers and not on the police officer?  It is simply because taxpayers are a convenient source of easy cash for large and powerful city operated organizations like police departments.  It is because we all know that the police department itself serves to isolate the officers within that police department, the officers who carry out these cowardly and irresponsible acts, from blame or guilt.

What might be done to begin to curb this massive financial fraud?   Change just might begin with ending the all too common unconstitutional practices of no knock raids, warrantless searches, reasonless traffic stops, unconstitutional checkpoints, and other many varieties of 4th amendment violations.  What is fueling that?

This alarming trend of police abuse and the constant daily violation of individual’s constitutional rights by police is fueled almost completely by a senseless “war on drugs”.

It’s time to stop that nonsense.

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The Militarization of Law Enforcement and their Military Equipment

police tank

Contrary to what you may have heard, the armored vehicles that appeared on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, during the unrest that followed the police shooting of Michael Brown did not come from the Pentagon. “Most of the stuff you are seeing in video coming out of Ferguson is not military,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Defense Department’s press secretary, told reporters last week. “The military is not the only source of tactical gear in this country.”

In other words: Don’t blame the military for militarizing the police. Kirby has a point. Although the Pentagon has played a role by distributing surplus gear to police departments, so have the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security by providing grants that can be used to buy military-style equipment. In any case, the real problem, more pervasive and insidious than BearCats or MRAPs on the streets of our cities, is the dangerously misguided urge to transform cops into soldiers, as reflected in the promiscuous use of SWAT teams.

As the acronym implies, SWAT teams originally wereintended for unusual threats requiring “special weapons and tactics,” threats such as rioters, shooters, barricaded suspects, and hostage takers. But what was once special is now routine. Today the most common use for SWAT teams, which are deployed something like 50,000 times a year in the U.S., is serving search warrants, typically in drug cases.

were here to help you to death

Looking at a sample of more than 800 SWAT operations carried out by 20 law enforcement agencies in 11 states during the last three years, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that 79 percent involved search warrants. More than three-quarters of the searches were looking for drugs.

These raids tend to follow the same basic pattern: Heavily armed, black-clad men enter a home early in the morning, while the occupants are asleep. The police often break down the door with a battering ram, shatter windows, and toss in a flashbang grenade, an explosive device designed to discombobulate targets with a blinding light and deafening noise. If there is a dog in the home that barks at the invaders (as dogs tend to do), the police kill it.

The element of surprise and the overwhelming, terrifying show of force are supposed to minimize violence by forestalling any thought of resistance. It does not always work out that way.

Last December a Texas marijuana grower named Henry Magee shot and killed a Burleson County sheriff’s deputy who broke into his mobile home in the middle of the night along with eight other officers. Magee said he mistook Sgt. Adam Sowders for a burglar, and in February a grand jury declined to indict him in the deputy’s death.

Six months before Magee shot Sowders, a similar mistake resulted in the death of Eugene Mallory, an 80-year-old retired electrical engineer who was shot in his bed because he grabbed a gun when armed men stormed into his home early in the morning. They were Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, looking for a nonexistent meth lab.

Last May police in Habersham County, Georgia, broke into a house in the middle of the night, looking for a meth dealer who no longer lived there. While attacking the house, the SWAT team tossed a flashbang grenade into a crib, severely burning a 19-month-old boy.

No drugs or weapons were found in that raid, which seems to be a pretty common outcome. In the ACLU study, records indicated that police found the drugs or guns they expected 35 percent of the time. The low rate of gun recovery is especially striking because the use of SWAT teams is supposedly justified by the prospect of facing armed and dangerous suspects.

The reckless use of paramilitary forces to attack the homes of unsuspecting civilians reflects a literalization of the war on drugs as well as the unseemly eagerness of many police officers to dress up and act like soldiers. Taking away their BearCats will not solve those problems.

 

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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