Civil Asset Forfeiture in Texas Is Creating An Unlikely Alliance (HBO)


A law enforcement tactic called civil asset forfeiture allows officers to seize property, like cars or money, from anyone suspected of committing a crime. It’s a useful tool for federal agents fighting drug cartels, but a new report from the Inspector General
at the U.S. Department of Justice raises concerns about local police
who work with federal task forces using the same tactic without proper training. In states like Texas, there are already
growing complaints about asset forfeiture, and the issue is uniting two groups
who don’t usually get along: lawbreakers and conservative politicians. — I got arrested back in March of 2016, and y’all are trying to seize my vehicle. I was just wondering where my vehicle is now. — Okay. — In March of 2016, Mindy says she was pulled over in
Lampasas, Texas for flashing her brights. But that instead of issuing a ticket,
the cops searched her car. — What did he say when he came up to the car? — “I smell marijuana.” — And what happened after they searched the car? — Well, they found the two resin balls and
they first tried to charge me with heroin. And then I was like, “Open the bag
and smell it, it’s marijuana.” And then, he did it and he looked at it
and he’s like, “Oh, it’s hash.” — Mindy swears it was weed. The cops insist it was hash. But this isn’t about how Mindy likes to get high, it’s about her 2004 Jeep Cherokee,
which the state of Texas is fighting in court. — I didn’t even have enough, like, to sell. I had no baggies, no scale. Nothing in the car that would indicate that. There’s my dogs. I take them to Bull Creek all the time. The Jeep was big. They like to get in it, I could put the seats down. — After the cops took her car, Mindy couldn’t get to work and eventually
lost her job as a personal assistant. With no money coming in, she had to move out
of her apartment and sleep on friends’ couches. It’s been a year, and she still
doesn’t have her jeep back. The Sheriff’s Department took Mindy’s car
through something called civil asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement to seize property
without actually convicting anyone of a crime. It dates back to the 1700s, when it was used
to seize ships transporting illegal goods. In 1978, Congress expanded the practice
so officers could hold onto drug money. They expanded it again in 1984, so cars, homes, and all other
private property would be fair game. Today, law enforcement say it’s the most
effective way to fight cartel leaders, who are really good at covering their tracks. — Making it more difficult for law enforcement
to seize large amounts of the cartel’s money only benefits the cartels’ illegal enterprise. We don’t want to help the cartel, we want
to help the citizens and law enforcement. — Sheriff Eavenson doesn’t have
to deal with the cartels very often. He’s the Sheriff of Rockwall County,
which is about 200 miles from Lampasas. It’s the smallest county in Texas,
and it’s nowhere near the border. But he’s serious about drug crime. — Hurting the cartel by taking
their assets away from them, is just a benefit to the officers, and the department,
and the citizens of our county and of our state. — What are the chances that something inside one of
these lockers was seized through civil asset forfeiture? — No. Not now, no. We haven’t done anything like that recently. — The Sheriff never expected to become
a national spokesman for the practice, he says his department only seizes
property about three or four times a year. But then, this happened: — We’ve got a state senator in Texas who
was talking about introducing legislation to require conviction before we could
receive that forfeiture money. — Can you believe that? — And I told him that the cartel would build a monument
to him in Mexico if he could get that legislation. — Who is the state senator?
Do you want to give us his name? We’ll destroy his career. — It’s unclear who exactly
Sheriff Eavenson was referring to, but the most comprehensive asset
forfeiture reform bill in Texas right now was introduced this past December
by State Senator Konni Burton. — When you’ve got something in place
that allows government to not only seize, but potentially forfeit their property
without a criminal conviction, something is wrong there, and
I’m gonna push back, because we need to protect
the rights of innocent victims. — Burton’s bill would ban officers
from permanently seizing property if the owner hasn’t been convicted of a crime. It’s created some unlikely alliances: Burton is a member of the Tea Party, but conservative and liberal organizations have both
been vocal opponents of civil asset forfeiture for years. — Did you expect before coming into office
that there would be issues like this, where you are very much on the same side as
the ACLU, as all these different organizations that, in many ways, exist on the complete
opposite side of the aisle? — Certainly not before my first session, I did not, no. But after being here and getting involved
in the criminal asset reform issues, I was like, oh my goodness! Common ground. That’s what it’s about. Let’s work together and move forward
for the good of everyone. — One of the biggest concerns
for lawmakers like Konni is that the policy incentivizes cops
to seize as much as possible. In Texas, police departments usually get to keep
most of the cash and the revenue from selling the cars. And It adds up: in 2015, Texas collected roughly
$53-million from civil asset forfeiture. More than $36-million went
to law enforcement agencies. — There’s a lot of positive things
we can do with that money that keeps the citizens of our county
and the citizens of our state from having to spend money
out of their tax dollars to pay for something that we were
able to make the cartel pay for. — How would you characterize the difference between what opponents of civil asset forfeiture
imagine happens, in terms of due process, and what actually happens? — I think it’s just a fact that they’re
uninformed and they’ve heard stories. I’ve heard people talk about,
“Well, I know this happened.” But when you get them to give you
specifics, they can’t do that. — Mindy can’t offer specifics about her car,
because no one will talk to her about it. The Lampasas District Attorney
never returned her call. Instead, she heard from her lawyer’s office: — So Lampasas won’t talk to me at all? — Okay. — Okay. They won’t talk to me, because
that criminal case is still pending. Even though the judge granted it—
technically, they haven’t dismissed it yet. Because they’re waiting for the DA,
to see if they appeal it. Why can’t they just talk to me? That’s… my Jeep. Awesome. Ugh, it’s so frustrating.

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