Tennessee: Where Stop and Frisk Meets Extortion by Cop:
Here's one you might not have heard before:
In Tennessee (state motto: "As Bugfuck Crazy as Arizona But with Humidity"), back in January, New Jersey insurance adjuster George Reby was driving towards a conference in Nashville. He had $22,000 in cash with him. He was pulled over for speeding, and when the cop questioned him, Reby made one mistake, according to the affidavit of Putman County Officer Larry Bates. Bates asked Reby if he had pot or coke in the car. Reby said he did not. And then he said he had never been arrested. Turns out he had been arrested twenty years before for cocaine possession, but found not guilty. That part didn't matter. He did tell Bates about the cash when the officer asked him. And Reby consented to a vehicle search. So Bates brought in a K-9 unit named Fonzie, and Fonzie picked up the scent of something, some drug residue on the money perhaps, but no drugs were found.
Bates checked the GPS in the car, which was set for a small airport nearby. Reby said he was picking someone up and head to the conference. Bates checked Reby's text messages on his cell phone and didn't like what some of them said, although drugs were not mentioned. Bates said in his affidavit that each thing he discovered heightened his suspicions that Reby was involved in selling drugs and that "common people do not carry this much currency." Bates asked Reby if he had bank accounts, and Reby said he did. As Bates later told a Nashville Channel 5 reporter, "The safest place to put your money if it's legitimate is in a bank account. He stated he had two. I would put it in a bank account. It draws interest and it's safer."
It's good to know that a police officer understands how banks work.
So Bates took the money and the cell phone under Tennessee's property forfeiture laws. Why? On the paperwork, Bates checked off the box that says that the officer believes he/she has "probable cause" that the property would be used "in exchange for a controlled substance." Besides, the money was being kept rolled up in a tool bag under the seat. Kind of hinky, no?
"But it's not illegal to carry cash," Channel 5 said.
"No, it's not illegal to carry cash," Bates said. "Again, it's what the cash is being used for to facilitate or what it is being utilized for."
Channel 5 noted, "But you had no proof that money was being used for drug trafficking, correct? No proof?"
"And he couldn't prove it was legitimate," Bates insisted. However, Reby did hand over the cash voluntarily. He did not make Bates find it.
Oh, one thing: Bates admitted to a news reporter that Redy told him that the money was to purchase a car. Bates chose to leave that out of his report. Why? "I don't know," said Officer Bates.
Reby provided the cops with documentation that he was buying a car. Also, it turns out that Reby really was picking up someone who was registered, with Reby, for the conference, which was also real. Reby really needed the Nashville airport. Reby just asked the GPS to find area airports. He had just received a text that the friend's flight had arrived.
Fun story, no? In Tennessee, the local cops around the state have been seizing large sums of cash from drivers for some time. Why? Because it's a gamble. Should the cash actually be from a drug dealer, chances are that the person is not going to ask for it back and the locality gets to keep it. Tennessee law "requires the person whose money was taken to post a $350 bond before an appeal can be heard. Also, 'failure to request a hearing in a timely manner will result in your losing your interest in the above property.'" The hearing itself is ex parte, which means that only the cop's side of the story is heard. Even if an appeal is filed, it can take a couple of years to get the cash back. It's a hella cool scam.
One local attorney, who is the chair of the local Tea Party, has had two clients in these kinds of cases where "police agreed to drop the cases in exchange for a cut of the money -- $1,000 in one case, $2,000 in another. In both cases, that was less than what they might have paid in attorney fees." He calls it "extortion."
Once Channel 5 got involved, Reby got his cash back this month. But, just to put an insouciant glaze of dickishness on the whole thing, they made him go back to Tennessee for the check.
A final piece: the Tennessee Legislature had a chance to set up an investigative committee on such activities by the police, but the bill died when the legislative session ended (but not before the "gateway sexual activity" bill passed).
If you believe that "Stop and Frisk" by the cops in New York City has worked to reduce crime, you are acceding to the power of a police state. And chances are that you belong to a population that is not subject to the whims of the NYPD.
But, at some point, once you remove the checks of due process and evidence and real probable cause, whether it's walking around the Bronx or going through airport security or protesting in Chicago or speeding across Tennessee, it will come around to bite you on the ass. And maybe take your cash, which ought to be enough to get even the most hardened, baton-fellating, cop-loving right winger into a froth.
(Note: Channel 5 has done yeoman's work on the subject of police abuse of forfeiture laws, even winning a DuPont award for its investigations. It's worth checking out to see what real TV journalism looks like.)