A video that shows Tennessee police offering to trade two truckers their freedom in exchange for cash has been key in a longstanding investigation into policing for profit in the state.
Video Of Trucker’s Traffic Stop Leads To Investigation
For about four years now, investigators have been looking into Tennessee’s civil forfeiture or “policing for profit” policies that allow local police to seize and keep cash that they suspect is drug money. While police claim that they are putting the money right back into the war on drugs, investigators questioned the fact that officers could take the cash and keep without even needing to file a police report.
According to a senior attorney for the Institute of Justice, with civil forfeiture policies in place, “you give law enforcement a direct and perverse incentive to go out and try to take as much property from citizens as possible.”
Truckers Asked To Choose Between Prosecution And Giving Up Cash
One of the major incidents that brought Tennessee’s policing for profit policies into question was video from a May 10, 2010, traffic stop on I-40 in Hickman county. In the video, a police officer seems to give the two California truck drivers the choice of either facing arrest or telling the police the location of a stash of money in the truck.
When trying to convince the drivers to give up the location of the money, the officer in the video says, “The good thing for you is when we seize money we don’t deal with the feds. We seize it ourselves. And if it ain’t your money and you say ‘Agent Owens, it ain’t my money, I don’t know how it got there…‘”
The drivers eventually cooperate and give up the location of about a half million dollars — money that the agents from the 21st Judicial District Drug Task Force were allowed to keep. They are allowed to walk away.
When District Attorney General Kim Helper was asked why the truck drivers were allowed to go free, she said that transporting drug money through Tennessee was not a crime, as she understood the law. The fact that the officer in the video chose to make the truck drivers believe that they were committing a crime when they were not is another reason that the highly controversial video has been instrumental in changing civil forfeiture policies.
After Four-Year Investigation, Feds Put Strict Limits On Policing For Profit
As a result of the investigation, lawmakers are working to crack down on civil forfeiture. As of January 15, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has imposed strict limits on civil forfeiture, making it almost impossible for local police to use the policy as a backdoor method for seizing property.
You can view the video of the questionable 2010 traffic stop and investigation below.