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Bradenton (FL) Police Department bypassing courts in forfeitures
Herald Tribune ^ | October 22. 2006 | MICHAEL A. SCARCELLA and ANTHONY CORMIER

Posted on 10/22/2006 1:16:21 PM PDT by ellery

BRADENTON -- For years, the Bradenton Police Department has quietly, without judicial review, confiscated hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and property from people they arrested for drug possession and other crimes.

The police bypass the courts and confiscate money and property on the spot through a department-created form called the "Contraband Forfeiture Agreement." By signing it, a person agrees to relinquish their property to the police and waive any rights they have to try to get it back through the courts.

In some cases -- including one last year where police seized more than $43,000 from a man during a traffic stop -- people have signed over cash and other property without ever getting charged with a crime.

The cash and revenue from other forfeited property, such as cars, DVDs and TVs, go into a police bank account and is spent on equipment, drug abuse prevention and community-based programs. The bank account has reached $150,000 in recent years.

Attorneys and constitutional law scholars say they are concerned Bradenton police may be pressuring people to sign away property -- and their legal rights -- without an attorney. State laws under the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act say a person is entitled to have a judge, not a police officer, determine the merits of forfeiture.

"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."

A Manatee County judge last year found fault with the department's forfeiture procedure in a case where police took more than $7,000 from a woman arrested for a driver's license violation after a traffic stop.

Judge Douglas Henderson said Jicela Baneles, 28, did not knowingly and willingly agree to give up her money -- despite the appearance of her name on the department's forfeiture agreement.

Police were ordered to return the money.

Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski said Henderson did not dismiss the agreement itself in the Baneles case.

"He didn't say the written agreement wasn't any good," Radzilowski said. "If the courts say we're doing something improper or illegal, we'll change it."

The contraband agreement, which purports to be a binding, legal document, is expected to become the centerpiece of a court fight in Manatee County. A lawsuit filed this week challenges the legitimacy of the forfeiture document.

The case is rooted in the police seizure of $10,020 from a 20-year-old Orlando man, Delane N. Johnson, in July.

Johnson, questioned amid a robbery investigation, was arrested on a rarely used charge of failing to report a business transaction that exceeds $10,000.

But prosecutors said it's not a crime to carry that amount of cash, and the state dropped the charge in August.

Johnson, police say, signed away his rights to the cash and authorities deposited the money in a police account within a week of the arrest.

Police say it will take a court order to get them to return Johnson's cash.

Johnson's attorneys want a judge to force the police department to use the courts in forfeiture cases and to stop negotiating with people as they are arrested.

Bradenton is the only law enforcement agency in the area that doesn't file its forfeiture complaints in court to initiate proceedings.

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

Police dismiss any notion that they are bullying people into signing away cash and property.

Radzilowski defends the practice, saying a person has a right to decide how to dispose of their property.

"People involved in crime are more apt to walk away from the money," the chief said. "We're not looking to take money from innocent people. We're only trying to take the profit out of the narcotics business."

Radzilowski said very few people who contest forfeiture actually win in court.

Johnson isn't the first person who later had second thoughts about signing their property away, Radzilowski said.

"This is not the first, and it won't be the last legal fight," Radzilowski said.

The bulk of Bradenton's forfeiture cases involve cash and property worth between $50 and $5,000, but occasionally the bounty can be much higher.

In two cases alone last year, police seized more than $100,000.

Police stopped Ezequiel Maldonado for a traffic violation in January 2005 and ended up taking $43,551 from him through a contraband agreement. Court records show Maldonado, 47, was not charged with a crime.

Benji Ackerman Jr., 34, was part of a cocaine distribution ring that city police dismantled last year. Ackerman got an 18-year federal prison sentence in June.

City police got $62,760 from him before he was put away.

Bradenton police reports show that officers have seized $12,638 from 15 people since early August. Most of the people were arrested on drug-related charges.

Janie Brooks, 56, was in her front yard when police swooped in last month to target an area fraught with drug sales.

Brooks was arrested when investigators said they found drugs, and her car and cash were seized.

The incident, Brooks said, happened in a flash, and while she sat in the back of a police cruiser an officer prodded her until she signed over about $1,200 to the Bradenton Police Department.

She said she had no idea what she was signing -- only that police told her that "things would go a lot smoother" if she signed it.

"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 resident Travis M. Hickman was arrested this month in a drug investigation and taken to police headquarters, but he was released without being charged with a crime.

Police said they saw Hickman throw two pieces of crack cocaine from a car window one evening in the 2600 block of 9th Street West.

Hickman, 21, who has a record of drug-related crimes, was searched for drugs. An officer dug into a pocket and pulled out cash.

"This is drug money. This is drug money," Hickman recalled an officer tell him, holding his cash.

"They went all up in my pockets. I didn't have no dope on me that day."

An officer put the "white, small objects that appeared to be crack cocaine" into a bag and placed it into the property department, according to police reports.

"They are arresting me but trying to tell me I know somebody. They wanted me to set someone up," said Hickman, who denied throwing anything out of the car window. "They said they would issue a warrant for my arrest."

Police took $30 from Hickman, according to the Contraband Forfeiture Agreement he signed.

Hickman is adamant that police took more money -- two $50s that were not reported in the agreement.

Hickman also insists the only document he signed is a sheet on which Miranda Rights were printed.


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Crime/Corruption; News/Current Events; US: Florida
KEYWORDS: badcops; bradenton; bribery; florida; lamordida

1 posted on 10/22/2006 1:16:23 PM PDT by ellery
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To: ellery
... They went all up in my pockets ...

Wow!

2 posted on 10/22/2006 1:37:15 PM PDT by relee
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To: elkfersupper

Coming to a traffic stop near you soon.


3 posted on 10/22/2006 1:43:08 PM PDT by razorback-bert (I met Bill Clinton once but he didn’t really talk — he was hitting on my wife)
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To: ellery

I see Vic Mackey's fingerprints on this!


4 posted on 10/22/2006 1:43:55 PM PDT by Hildy
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To: ellery

It would seem that the solution is a law that doesn't allow law enforcement to profit in any way from anything siezed, NOR from things like traffic ticket money. Give them a budget, period. There is just too big of a confict of interest if they can put money into their own dept.
susie


5 posted on 10/22/2006 1:44:54 PM PDT by brytlea (amnesty--an act of clemency by an authority by which pardon is granted esp. to a group of individual)
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To: ellery

When robbed was done by the kings men they were called called highwaymen. What is the modern term for robbery by the police? Using force and guns they are committing armed robbery.



6 posted on 10/22/2006 1:45:34 PM PDT by YOUGOTIT
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To: brytlea

I agree -- law enforcement should focus on public safety, not revenue generation.


7 posted on 10/22/2006 1:49:25 PM PDT by ellery (The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts. - Edmund Burke)
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To: ellery

Dreaming.
What is most road patrol other then revenue enhancement?


8 posted on 10/22/2006 2:12:32 PM PDT by Joe Boucher (an enemy of islam)
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To: Joe Boucher

AKA value-added profit incentives.


9 posted on 10/22/2006 2:17:26 PM PDT by Liberty Valance (Keep a simple manner for a happy life)
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To: Liberty Valance

Quotas?


10 posted on 10/22/2006 2:29:00 PM PDT by Joe Boucher (an enemy of islam)
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To: ellery
That doesn't sound real enforceable...

The police bypass the courts and confiscate money and property on the spot through a department-created form called the "Contraband Forfeiture Agreement." By signing it, a person agrees to relinquish their property to the police and waive any rights they have to try to get it back through the courts.

11 posted on 10/22/2006 2:39:52 PM PDT by Ready4Freddy ("Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.")
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To: ellery
The abuse of forfeiture laws is widespread and well documented. What was intended to take illegal profits from drug king-pins has been turned against the common citizen and made into a revenue generator.

Of course, police will protest any suggestion of ending the practice. They've gotten used to their new method of funding, and won't give it up without a court fight.

"Larceny under color of law" would be the appropriate legal phrase.

12 posted on 10/22/2006 2:41:52 PM PDT by etcetera (‘War is permanently established until the Day of the Judgment’. Mohammed)
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To: sit-rep

Check out this sh!t.


13 posted on 10/22/2006 2:50:17 PM PDT by Larry Lucido
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To: ellery
Radzilowski defends the practice, saying a person has a right to decide how to dispose of their property.

A right to decide with, literally, a gun to their head. This is nothing less than robbery.

14 posted on 10/22/2006 2:56:09 PM PDT by CGTRWK
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To: ellery

Remember that the dollar amounts are what is REPORTED.

Am I saying that the police are corrupt?

What else can you say when the local police department creates an administrative procedure that is, IMHO, in clear violation of the Constitution of the US and then dares anyone to come and get their money back?

The people or persons who wrote this administrative procedure and who signed off on it must be identified, jailed for civil rights violations, and punished . Any law enforcement officer or officer of the court system who knew of this activity and failed to report it must forfeit their jobs immediately.

Over reaction? Read your histories of Europe, Russia in the later 1910’s and Germany in the early 1930’s where administrative procedures lead to …… and remember there is no biological/mental difference between them and us.


15 posted on 10/22/2006 3:10:38 PM PDT by Nip (SPECTRE - taking out the enemy one terrorist at a time; at night; without warning or mercy)
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To: ellery; Nip; CGTRWK; Larry Lucido; etcetera; Ready4Freddy; Joe Boucher; YOUGOTIT; razorback-bert

I think this case is ripe for a Federal criminal investigation and civil rights suit for violation of rights under color of authority.


16 posted on 10/22/2006 3:34:40 PM PDT by Enterprise (Let's not enforce laws that are already on the books, let's just write new laws we won't enforce.)
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To: ellery
"People involved in crime are more apt to walk away from the money," the chief said. "We're not looking to take money from innocent people. We're only trying to take the make a profit out of the narcotics business."

There. Probably more accurate.

17 posted on 10/22/2006 3:36:25 PM PDT by Enterprise (Let's not enforce laws that are already on the books, let's just write new laws we won't enforce.)
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To: Larry Lucido

I read it at my place and commented. It is total BS. But, like the majority of todays government abuses, nothing will result, no government employees will be charged.


18 posted on 10/22/2006 3:41:09 PM PDT by sit-rep ( http://trulineint.com/latestposts.asp)
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To: ellery

I'll bet these forfeiture "victims" are all stupid druggies and pushers


19 posted on 10/22/2006 3:49:05 PM PDT by dennisw ("What one man can do, another can do")
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To: Nip
The incentive structure is poisonous. When they catch a dealer with cash, the incentive is to seize the cash, and let the dealer go, in hopes of shaking him down again in the future.

Plus, as the practice becomes common, there is temptation to just pocket the money and not report it.

20 posted on 10/22/2006 3:51:32 PM PDT by SauronOfMordor (A planned society is most appealing to those with the arrogance to think they will be the planners)
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To: SauronOfMordor
No cops should be indited, and they have done nothing wrong. The only problem is that the local Mafia( Bar Association) is not profiting in the program. Mr. Jarndice in ( Bleak House) says " The only purpose of Lawyers is to produce more work for themselves" They are not interested in what is legal. They couldn't care less about fairness, all they want is a piece of the pie.. FEE on all Lawyers.
21 posted on 10/22/2006 4:07:20 PM PDT by BooBoo1000 (Some times I wake up grumpy, other times I let her sleep/)
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To: dennisw
I'll bet these forfeiture "victims" are all stupid druggies and pushers
---
Probably some of them are. Now, how about the rest? You know, the innocent ones? You know, like in "Innocent until proven guilty"?

And in point of fact of course even the druggies and pushers have rights. We don't allow them rights because they're druggies and pushers, but because we long ago came to the conclusion that if we allowed the government to just punish without trial the people the government "knew" were guilty, sooner or later WE would be the ones accused by the government that "knew" WE were guilty.
22 posted on 10/22/2006 4:27:10 PM PDT by Cheburashka (World's only Spatula City certified spatula repair and maintenance specialist!!!)
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To: ellery
"...Attorneys and constitutional law scholars say they are concerned...

It's about time someone showed some concern over this practice. This should never have been allowed at all, under any circumstances and I still find it hard to believe that the issue hasn't made it to the Supreme Court where it could be stopped.

23 posted on 10/22/2006 4:39:53 PM PDT by Lloyd227 (and may God bless Oriana Fallaci)
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To: dennisw
"I'll bet these forfeiture "victims" are all stupid druggies and pushers"

Of course you do.

Thanks for your comment

24 posted on 10/22/2006 4:41:53 PM PDT by Lloyd227 (and may God bless Oriana Fallaci)
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To: ellery
Its a form of legalized bribery. Want the cops to drop their charges against you? La Mordida it to them!

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." -Manuel II Paleologus

25 posted on 10/22/2006 4:44:14 PM PDT by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives On In My Heart Forever)
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To: razorback-bert

These people are probably (I hope) going to start a war.


26 posted on 10/22/2006 7:04:04 PM PDT by elkfersupper
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To: ellery

This is not a new problem. Several years ago the Kansas City Star published a six part series about seizing cash from motorists, in several states. It is chilling in it's scope, running from locals thru counties, states & the feds. When the feds get involved, they split the proceeds with the county/state, forcing the poor sap to spend thousands trying to recover his money in Federal court system.


27 posted on 10/22/2006 7:29:48 PM PDT by diogenes ghost
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To: ellery
This is crap.

The headline of the "article": Bradenton (FL) Police Department bypassing courts in forfeitures

And yet, the seizures cited in the article were reviewed by a judge.

Unless cops have an ironclad case against the person they don't even try to keep the seized funds and/or property.

If you have property that is seized you are given a notice of forfeiture. You then have X-number of days to agree to forfeiting your property or NOT AGREE TO THE FORFEITURE. If you don't agree to it then a hearing is setup BEFORE A JUDGE.

28 posted on 10/22/2006 7:55:32 PM PDT by VeniVidiVici (In God we trust. All others we monitor.)
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