I have been writing recently about police forfeitures on highways and how it has become a source of new revenue for departments despite questions of pretext stops and probable cause. Humboldt County has now settled a variety of cases where police took money without any connection or plausible suspicion of a crime. One such seizure was captured on tape and it is a chilling example of what is called “policing for profit.” Las Vegas is a perfect place for this technique since people drive around with a lot of cash. The video captures Humboldt County Deputy Lee Dove confronting one witness by taking his cash and asking “That’s not yours, is it?” The driver responds ‘That’s mine” and Dove simply declares “Well, I’m seizing it.”
In another video, Dove is shown trying to coerce a motorist, Tan Nguyen, to simply walk away for $50,000. Nguyen was stopped for going 3 miles over the speed — a typical pretextual stop. These pretext stops have become commonplace after the Supreme Court refused to question the motive of such stops. Many civil libertarians condemned the Supreme Court in its decision in Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806 (1996), where it refused to consider whether a stop was clearly based on a pretext in judging the constitutionality of the later search. We have seen abusive searches in such stops in past cases. As with Deputy Dove, police often use dogs to alert on the smell of the money and proclaim them drug proceeds. However, studies have shown that a high percentage of money in circulation has drug residue — making the dog a guaranteed justification for a search and seizure.
In this video, Dove can be seen immediately alleging that “I just smelled weed. I know I did. I know I smelled weed.” Of course, there is no weed in the car but there is $50,000 in cash and $10,000 in cashiers checks. Dove announces that he is taking the money and adds “Everyday I do this. It’s all I do for a living. It’s drug interdiction and I get money.” There is no arrest. There is not even a ticket. Dove stops the car, strips the man of his money, and walks away. However, he pressures the man to sign a waiver to make it all legal and allow him to keep the money. He adds “With everybody, that’s what I do because they don’t want the problems or the headaches so they abandon the money. They take what they’ve got in their wallet, or in this case cashiers checks, and they bolt.”
Another man reported that he had just $2,400 (hardly a suspicious amount in Vegas) for a trip where he was looking for a job. He then ran into Deputy Dove who took the cash without a charge or ticket.
While there is no charge, Dove makes it clear that they are guilty in some of these exchanges:
Driver: “I mean, you have no right to take this money.”
Deputy Dove: “Yes, I do.”
Driver: “I haven’t done anything.”
Deputy Dove: “Yes, you have. I believe you have. I believe you have, ok.”
In the case of Tan Nguyen, Dove does not even get consent to search. He just goes into the car and does not initially respond when Nguyen asks him why he is searching his car. Dove then says “Because I’m talking to you… well, no, I don’t have to explain that to you. I’m not going to explain that to you, but I am gonna put my drug dog on that. If my dog alerts, I’m seizing the money. You can try to get it back but you’re not.” Nguyen tries to explain that the won the money in Vegas but Dove shrugs it off and says “Good luck proving it. Good luck proving it. You’ll burn it up in attorney fees before we give it back to you . . . It’s your call. If you want to walk away, you can take the cashiers checks, the car and everything and you can bolt and you’re on your way. But you’re gonna be walking away from this money and abandoning it.”
Now here is the part that you were probably expecting. After settling these cases, the police department has not charged or fired Dove. There is not even a statement that Dove has been disciplined. Nothing. A police officer abuses drivers and coerces them to sign away money, but the officer is considered fit for service.
Not that long ago, I wrote a column on the increasing use of our roads by police to mine for cash and property to seize from vehicles. We have also discussed this trend in various blog columns. Police departments appear addicted to drug money and they are using false sobriety checkpoints and pretextual stops to search vehicles for cash and property to seize. They get to keep much of these funds and Dove appears a big “earner” for Humboldt County. He proved correct in one sense. The drivers were forced to get a lawyer and litigate the claims before the county turned over its ill-gotten gains . . . and nothing appears to have happened to Deputy Dove.
Kudos: Michael Blott