Radley Balko tells the full story of a traffic stop in Illinois that demonstrates how eager some police departments are to use “asset forfeiture” to get their hands on the property of innocent people:
Last December, filmmaker Terrance Huff and his friend Jon Seaton were returning to Ohio after attending a “Star Trek” convention in St. Louis. As they passed through a small town in Illinois, a police officer, Michael Reichert, pulled Huff’s red PT Cruiser over to the side of the road, allegedly for an unsafe lane change. Over the next hour, Reichert interrogated the two men, employing a variety of police tactics civil rights attorneys say were aimed at tricking them into giving up their Fourth Amendment rights. Reichert conducted a sweep of Huff’s car with a K-9 dog, then searched Huff’s car by hand. Ultimately, he sent Huff and Seaton on their way with a warning.
Earlier this month, Huff posted to YouTube audio and video footage of the stop taken from Reichert’s dashboard camera. No shots were fired in the incident. No one was beaten, arrested or even handcuffed. Reichert found no measurable amount of contraband in Huff’s car. But Huff’s 17-and-a-half minute video raises important questions about law enforcement and the criminal justice system, including the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, the drug war, profiling and why it’s so difficult to take problematic cops out of the police force.
[. . .]
“When we saw the Huff video in our office, we just laughed,” Rekowski says. “Not because it wasn’t outrageous. But because it’s the kind of thing we see all the time. The stop for a so-called ‘inappropriate lane change,’ the games they play in the questioning, the claims about nervousness or inappropriate behavior that can’t really be contradicted. It’s all routine.”
According to Koester, the defense attorney in private practice, “The dog alert that happens off-camera isn’t unusual either. You see that all the time.”
Koester and Rekowski say the Huff stop has all the markings of a forfeiture fishing expedition. “You see where he asks if [Huff] is carrying large amounts of U.S. currency,” Rekowski says. “It’s pretty clear what they’re after. These kinds of cases put my kids through college.” He laughs, then adds, “I’m only half joking.”
H/T again to Jon, my former virtual landlord.