Highway Robbery? Police Allegedly Stealing from Passers Through

You can drive into this dusty fleck of a town near the Texas-Louisiana border if you're African-American, but you might not be able to drive out of it—at least not with your car, your cash, your jewelry or other valuables.

That's because the police here allegedly have found a way to strip motorists, many of them black, of their property without ever charging them with a crime. Instead they offer out-of-towners a grim choice: voluntarily sign over your belongings to the town, or face felony charges of money laundering or other serious crimes.

More than 140 people reluctantly accepted that deal from June 2006 to June 2008, according to court records. Among them were a black grandmother from Akron, who surrendered $4,000 in cash after Tenaha police pulled her over, and an interracial couple from Houston, who gave up more than $6,000 after police threatened to seize their children and put them into foster care, the court documents show. Neither the grandmother nor the couple were charged with any crime.

Officials in Tenaha, situated along a heavily traveled highway connecting Houston with popular gambling destinations in Louisiana, say they are engaged in a battle against drug trafficking and call the search-and-seizure practice a legitimate use of the state's asset-forfeiture law. That law permits local police agencies to keep drug money and other property used in the commission of a crime and add the proceeds to their budgets.

"We try to enforce the law here," said George Bowers, mayor of the town of 1,046 residents, where boarded-up businesses outnumber open ones and City Hall sports a broken window. "We're not doing this to raise money. That's all I'm going to say at this point."

But civil rights lawyers call Tenaha's practice something else: highway robbery. The attorneys have filed a federal class-action lawsuit to stop what they contend is an unconstitutional perversion of the law's intent, aimed primarily at blacks who have done nothing wrong.

If this proves to be true, then these cops/city officals are pretty stupid. Writing unneccessary tickets is one thing (I know, I get them all the time), but taking cars, cash, jewelry is quite another, especially when they threaten to take away their kids, throw them in jail, etc. Besides, this news can't be great for their tourism. "What Drives Through Tenaha, Stays in Tenaha."



Anonymous said...

Asset forfeiture loses any semblance of legitimacy when any agency State or Federal involved in the forfeiture process gains in anyway to any degree when it occurs.


Jim50 said...

RICO was a stupid law and I can't believe the Supreme Court said it was Constitutional. (they did!) Those justices should have been impeached right then and there. They used the excuse that property has no rights. But what of the rights of the people who owned that property? Until they are conviced if you take property that is STEALING.

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