I-80 Drug Stops: Thousands of Dollars SeizedBy: Pam Wright - March 13, 2014
Something fishy is going on in Nevada.
Deputies of a Nevada sheriff’s department are allegedly stopping suspected drug traffickers on U.S. Interstate 80 and taking money from them without filing criminal charges.
Two men who had money confiscated are fighting back, trying to get their money back. They recently filed federal lawsuits against Humboldt County in Nevada and now residents are starting to question the deputies’ practices.
Humboldt County Sheriff Ed Kilgore said he can’t discuss the case, but defends the practice, telling residents the stops are legal. He said civil forfeitures are legal if an officer suspects the individual obtained — or intends to use — the money illegally.
“What I’m hearing on the street is that we stop you and ask you for your license, registration and your insurance, and how much money do you have? That simply is not how it is ever done,” the sheriff told a group of residents who gathered in the Winnemucca Convention Center Tuesday.
The men who filed the lawsuits come from California and Colorado and their stories about their stops near Winnemucca late last year are very similar.
They say no drugs were found or arrests made, but both say they were told they’d be released if they gave up their cash.
According to the lawsuits, one forfeited a briefcase filled with $50,000 cash and the other over $13,800 and a handgun.
“It’s like Jesse James or Black Bart,” John Ohlson, a Reno lawyer representing one of the men, told The Associated Press last week.
Sgt. Chris Aker said officers are trained to recognize suspicious behavior that may indicate illegal activity.
“We don’t just say how much money have you got, we’re going to take it,” he said. “There’s been a lot of them where I think this is dirty and it doesn’t make sense — but I have to let them go,” he said.
“We’re trying to combat crime in our own little way in the war on drugs,” he said. “We’re not just talking about people driving to buy medical marijuana. These are drug traffickers with guns who may be staying in our hotels.”
Robert Dolan, an ex-Humboldt County public defender thinks the laws should be changed.
“Currently, you don’t need a criminal prosecution to be part of a civil forfeiture,” said Dolan. “It’s a slippery slope of evidentiary standards … but it’s out there. It’s lawful. The deck is stacked against the citizens. And I’m not happy about it. But this system was not invented by Sheriff Kilgore.”
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