Motorists File Suit Against Texas Police

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Tenaha, TX—A number of motorists who passed through the small town of Tenaha, Texas, which sits near the Louisiana state line, say that police stopped them and coerced them to give up their money and valuables.

Now the motorists are teaming up to file suit against the police department and Shelby County officials.

Under Texas law, police may confiscate case and other property if they believe it is drug money or otherwise linked to criminal activity. They must return the property and money if the suspect is acquitted, or if no charges end up being filed. The lawsuit, which was filed by attorney David Guillory, claims that the police don’t return much of the contraband.

It also alleges that the police force in Tenaha deliberately targets minority drivers, as Blacks and Hispanics are deemed least likely to fight back when their property is taken from them.

In several of the plaintiffs’ cases, the police are alleged to have threatened the motorists with removal of their children to Child Protective Services unless large amounts of money were relinquished. In other cases, threats of severe charges – money-laundering or serious drug charges – were made to people who had only been stopped for speeding. In most instances, the threats were made in order to coerce the motorists to sign waivers forfeiting their property.

Seizures of money and proceeds from seizures of other goods can be used for “official purposes” in Texas. Yet public records show that property forfeitures in Shelby County paid for, among other things, a popcorn machine, candy, catering of office events, and donations to a Baptist church, a chamber of commerce and a youth baseball league.

One Tenaha police officer also received $10,000 worth of this money, for “investigative costs.”

In a written statement issued by her attorneys, Shelby County District Attorney Lynda Russell denied the allegations and claimed that her office acts in accordance with the law, using “prosecutorial discretion.”

One of the plaintiffs alleges that Russell herself came to the police station upon the plaintiff’s arrest, and threatened her with separation from her children.

Guillory has estimated that Tenaha police have seized approximately $3 million between 2006 and 2008. In 150 cases, the seizures were improper.

A measure has been passed by the state Senate which would make Texas’s forfeiture laws tougher. It’s now being debated by the House of Representatives.

 

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