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Tennessee Police Under Investigation For Taking Cash From Citizens

Tennessee police for cashDriving with large amounts of cash is now a crime in Tennessee – at least if recent events are any indication.

The seizure of cash [1] from citizens under civil forfeiture laws in Tennessee has gotten so out of control that the state legislature is looking into the practice. Members of drug task forces turned police traffic stops into shakedowns that seized hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from motorists, testimony [2] before state legislators revealed.

The legislative hearings were prompted by an investigation [3] by Channel 5, a Nashville TV station, that found members of a drug task force were more interested in seizing cash from travelers than arresting drug smugglers.

“What’s wrong about having large amounts of cash?” businessman Karen Petrosyan asked.

Petrosyan claims that the members of 21st Judicial District Drug Taskforce seized $200,000 and a tractor trailer he owned on Interstate 40 near Carthage, Tennessee. Petrosyan did not have drugs. Federal and state laws let police seize any cash they suspect of being drug-related — without a warrant.

In some instances, people never get their money back, because it would cost more in attorney’s fees to acquire it than it’s worth.

Interstate highway now a profit center for police

“Interstate 40 has become a major profit center for Tennessee law enforcement,” said Phil Williams, Channel 5’s chief investigative reporter. Williams found that law enforcement agencies were actually competing to seize cash from travelers.

The True Christian Heritage and Christian Ideals That Are Woven Into The Very Fabric Of The Constitution… [4]

Some of the disturbing behavior Williams discovered included:

“Everything’s paid for through seizures and fines,” Chandler admitted.

When asked about the rivalry between drug task forces Chandler was even more blatant.

“Competition can be a good thing,” the chief said of the rivalry.

The 23rd District task force seized $160,000 in cash [5] from a New York businessman in December 2011. Even the officer who seized the cash admitted it probably wasn’t drug money. The businessman sued the federal government and settled out of court for $155,000.

A November 20 hearing on the 23rd District Taskforce’s operations [6] by a Tennessee State Senate subcommittee led to some more disturbing revelations including:

When Tennessee state senators asked the head of the 23rd District Taskforce, David Hicks, about the $160,000, Hicks claimed the money was related to terrorism. He claimed his officers seized the money because they thought the man was a terrorist. Hicks did not present evidence proving the allegations.

Hicks also admitted that officers involved in seizure have a financial incentive to take cash.

“They know that if the money dries up, then they don’t have a job,” Hicks said of the officers on the taskforce.

It is easy to see why the Institute for Justice [7], a libertarian civil rights group, gave Tennessee a D- on civil forfeiture in its Policing for Profit [8] expose last year. Fortunately, the media and the legislature seem to be willing to do something about the abuses.

In addition to the legislative hearings State Representative Barrett Rich has introduced House Bill 1078 [9], which would make it illegal for police to seize cash or property without a warrant.

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