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Law Enforcement: Lawsuit Shines Light on Florida Police Department's Shady Forfeiture Practice

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #459)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

A lawsuit filed by a young Bradenton, Florida, man to win the return of $10,000 in cash seized from him by the Bradenton Police Department has shined a light on a longstanding -- and possibly illegal -- asset forfeiture policy by the department. Under the Florida Contraband Act, persons whose money and property were seized by police have the right to have a judge rule on the legality of the seizure. But the Bradenton police have for years been using their own "Contraband Forfeiture Agreement," which people arrested are told to sign to agree to give up their property and waive any legal recourse.

Florida's finest...
The practice came to light last week, when the Sarasota Herald Tribune began reporting on the case of Delane Johnson, 20, who was stopped outside an apartment house in July. When police spotted a wad of cash in his pants pocket, he told them he was using the money for a party. They arrested him on the rarely-used charge of failing to report a business transaction in excess of $10,000 (he had $10,020). Police claim Johnson signed the "Contraband Forfeiture Agreement" -- a claim he disputes -- and they deposited the money in a police bank account.

County prosecutors dropped the charges, saying it was not a crime to carry cash, but police refused to return the money. Now Johnson is in court fighting to get his money back.

"The whole arrest was bogus. It's awful," attorney Varinia Van Ness, who represented Johnson, told the Herald Tribune. She wants the courts to order the department to follow state law instead of continuing its end run around the law.

"Hopefully, we'll put a stop to it when we get in front of a judge," said attorney Louis Daniel Lazaro, who also represents Johnson. "There are possible corruption charges on a criminal level."

This wouldn't be the first time people have gone to court to get their money back. Last year, a Manatee county judge ordered Bradenton police to return $7,000 seized from a woman who was arrested for a driver's license violation after a traffic stop. Judge Douglas Henderson ruled that the woman did not knowingly and willingly agree to have her money confiscated even though her named appeared on the forfeiture agreement.

The Bradenton Police Department's unusual practice was viewed with concern by attorneys and constitutional scholars contacted by the Herald Tribune. They said police may be pressuring people to sign away their rights, a charge some local residents said was true.

"Who knows what they are telling people to get them to sign it," said Sarasota-based defense attorney Henry E. Lee, who represented a woman last year in a police forfeiture case in Bradenton. "This is a source of revenue for the police, and it's just rife for abuse."

"It sounds like robbery to me," said Joseph Little, a law school professor at the University of Florida.

Bradenton police have seized more than $12,000 from 15 people arrested since August. Janie Brooks, 56, was one of them. She was in her front yard in a poor neighborhood when police swooped in, said they found drugs, and seized her car and $1,200 cash. As she sat in the back of a patrol car, police pressured her into signing the forfeiture form, she said. "He kept rushing me, like, 'Go ahead, things will be better if you did,'" Brooks said. "It was like, there's gonna be some big time stuff that happens to me if I don't sign it."

Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski was unrepentant. "If you're selling drugs, I'm going to take your money, your car, your house -- if I can get it," he said. "That's my goal here. Eventually we're going to seize someone's house." He also accused Delane Johnson of being a drug dealer, though he was never charged with a drug-related offense. "Does he really think a judge will give him back his drug money? God bless him if a judge goes along with that."

It's little wonder Radzilowski defends the practice. The county's asset forfeiture fund, which the department uses to buy new equipment and pay for drug education and other programs, has gone as high as $150,000.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

The next time these bastards try something like this we need the state police to swoop in, arrest them, then seize their cash, their squad cards, and their police station.

Fri, 10/27/2006 - 1:34pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

The cases mentioned are played out all over the country day after day, the results of the drug hysteria started by the "reefer madness" policies starting with Harry Anslinger and amplified by continuing scare tactics which are not only irresponsibe, although profitable, but which place citizens in danger because the law enforcement assets are diverted from prosecuting real crimes; crimes against persons and property. But as long as those forfeiture laws remain on the books the police will benefit hugely because there is no accountability to track the monies taken.

Fri, 10/27/2006 - 4:11pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

The next time these bastards try something like this we need the state police to swoop in, arrest them, then seize their cash, their squad cards, and their police station.

I agree, and same goes for so called police all across the USA.!!!!!!

Fri, 10/27/2006 - 4:23pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I have been through this whole nightmare in Florida. I have always worked fulltime and paid taxes. Due to having pot growing in my home, I was subjected to the whole list of violations listed above and more. They took my home and forced me to buy it back from them as blackmail for not filing federal charges in addition to state charges for cultivation. People may not know this but FL stacks a variety of class A felonies on a pot growing bust which all carry a 5 year sentence. By the time it was finished I had 7 felony charges. You then risk the fact that it could be 5 years total or 7 5-year sentences turning into a term of 35 years. When you have over 50 plants with federal charges you most likely will be doing about 10 years, but could be looking at life in prison. I had to pay the federal marshall's service $9,000 as a bribe to not get them involved in my case. After the scummy ass lawyer I hired, the state police, the bogus drug rehab costs, the loss of my vehichle as well, I was really bankrupt. Since I had money from working, I was mostly out on the street. I learned then that the goal was money,so if you could pay why lock you away ? I had a 5 year sentence of 2 years house arrest and 3 years probation. You also have to pay a bail bondsman 10% for a $150,000 bail, court costs, drug rehab eval costs, and it costs more the closer you are supervised. When you are on house arrest the charge was about $100 a month, then probation goes down to about $50. You also have to pay for drug testing, and go to fuckin AA, or NA meetings all the time. I was a patriotic person before but now I am more afraid of my own government than any type of terrorist organization. Around the time I was busted, I read in the paper that there was a lady convicted of DUI manslaughter this was about in (the early 90's). She killed someone and got the exact same sentence that I got. The 5 year deal with a 2/3 split. I was growing about 100 plants, and she got drunk and ran into someone in her car and killed them and our "crimes" were deemed to be equal. I hate my government, lawyers, cops, and most anyone who stands to profit by keeping other people under their oppresion. It would seem that by now the realization that you need to legislate public health issues and not morality issues would be really obvious, but things continue down this messed up road. The more that the monster of prohibition feeds itself on seizures and the more private corrections companies come into being it becomes a horrible monster. There is something seriously wrong with having companies making profits from putting and keeping people in prison. I will never be in that situation again. I would rather fight and be killed by some swat team than to have to go through all the criminal injustice system nightmare again. I had worked for about 25 years and it wiped out all the savings and all of my assets. I did not sell much weed so it really only stopped me from smoking for a long time. It really got me addicted to pills instead, since if you got medication from a doctor it was ok, but a bad drug test could land you in prison. This whole system is so patently misguided and stupid and these politicians have their heads so far up their asses it makes me sick. They have all this smokescreen about how all the children will be taking drugs if they open up pot to medical or decriminalization. Wake up you dumbfuck politicians, ask any kid in grammer school or Jr. high and they all can get pot or any drug you can name within 5 minutes. It is the middle age fuckers like me around 50 who have a hard time finding it. Everyone I know either got busted, got killed, or stopped due to marriage or drug testing on their jobs. They mostly are just good old drunks now. A lot of this great drug free bullshit and free concerts brought to you by the alchol and tobacco companies. Keep it drug free with Budwieser and Marlboro.

I am seething with rage now as I write this and remember some of the shit I went through particularly having about 10 guys kick my door in, hold a gun to my head, search my house for hours and take all kind of shit in boxes as evidence and put whatever else they felt like in their pockets. They started immediately asking me where the "money" was. That was their main interest from the start. I am not a violent person, but now I think we almost need to start having armed revolts against all the swat teams that our taxes and seizure money pays for. I know that I would rather die than go through the shit again. I hope that I can kill a lot of cops before they finally shoot me. That sounds crazy, but I am a trained professional with a doctorate degree, and have never hurt anyone in my life. The drug war and prohibition creates all the craziness and violence. The simple fact that if pot was not illegal, why would anyone smuggle it ? As long as people want to get high and mainly when money can be made the madness will exist. It has been about 15 years and I still have PTSD and nightmares and flashbacks from the home invasion by the police. Dont let it happen to you, it will fuck up your life. Thanks for listening. Older, wiser, and an enemy of the fascist oppresors till the day that I die. The system and the cops have made me into their worst nightmare. Fuck the police and long live the gentle people who smoke, grow, nurture, love, and pass the gentle holy weed around. God's gift to man (Genesis 1:29) how can man make it illegal when it was the first gift from God. Peace Z-3

Sat, 10/28/2006 - 6:49pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

On august 23,2006 I was traveling with a large amount of currency. I was traveling out of the country so i had to declared the money to customs. Ater reporting and declaring the money. I was told everything was in order have a nice flight. i proceeded to the gate of departure while waiting to board i was stopped by customs officers. The officers wanted to count the currency. I explained to them that i had declared it at their office, the reply was is routine we will put you on the next flight.
I never being arrested or charged with a crime here in the us or anywhere. I,m a retired law enforcement officer with distinguish honors. I have business that generate income i proof to them that I'm legit in the eyes of the law. I was taken
to a so call 4X4 room no cameras or recording devices. I was surrounded by
custom officers and agents and cops like i was a terrorist or a murderer. After 7
hours of detention with no charges or valid reason my currency was forfeiture.
I was told that my money came from dirty sources. I was coerced and called
lots of thing but what hurts the most is bieng called drug dealer. Never in my life
have i ever used or tried controled substance. I was always on the other side
arresting with probable cause and right by law. It seems the in florida as well
as in many other states money is the reason for violating people civil rights,
destroying lives of families,breaking every meaning of the word justice,freedom,
and the right to keep wahts yours. As a former law enforcement officer i have never
seen something like this. Its robbery with a badge and gun. Good citizen

Fri, 11/10/2006 - 4:00am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Over the past week I have received two traffic tickets for things that were complete bull. Both were by small town cops. This makes me very angry because I've never been cited for anything.

The total for both tickets is around $500, and although I plan to fight both of them, I was shocked at just how quickly they issue a ticket and run off to grab the next one. In both cases, both cops had someone else before I even pulled away from where I was pulled over.

I used to defend the police, but things like this just underscore how criminal these people are, and how we as citizens need to somehow send a clear message to our oppressive government that we're tired of being tried, convicted, and executed with no question. This is the kind of crap that happened in the USSR.

Fri, 11/30/2007 - 7:00am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Does anyone know and have links to a site that may provide an answer on whether or not recording police search and seizures is lawful? Has anyone ever recorded police entering premises and followed throughout the entire search. I need help!

Mon, 06/23/2008 - 7:01am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello, I had to request an Adversarial Hearing for monies that was seized from my pocket on a bust, the only thing found in the house was less than 20 grams of marijuana, and that wasnt even mine..

But they tried to say it was, Actually I had more cash on me than what they said I did, yeah I know them mother fu****s, muscled my cheese, and that pisses me off to no end. However, I do have the Hearing this week, I just dont know what to expect at it, never have gone through this before.....

The monies the police took from my person, was a loan that was just taken out of a bank from the quy that also lives there...

Any comments or helpful suggestions, or knowledge of the hearing from anyone would be most appreciated..

Sun, 09/27/2009 - 5:37pm Permalink

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