Cops illegally grab man’s life savings, now victim turns tables
‘The officers who pulled him over never alleged he did anything wrong’
The fight over various local, state and federal forfeiture programs, where cops or government bureaucrats simply take a person’s assets or cash, has been going on for several years now.
In many cases such sanctioned theft programs are being abandoned or even struck down by the courts.
Now one more is in the bull’s-eye: a scheme in the state of Nevada through which highway patrol officers simply take money when they find travelers have it.
The fight is being waged by the Institute for Justice on behalf of victim Stephen Lara.
He’s already won the battle, as the Drug Enforcement Administration, which wound up with his confiscated “life savings,” returned the money the day after he filed a lawsuit.
The “decision means Stephen Lara, represented by the Institute for Justice, can continue his legal challenge to the state’s forfeiture scheme, which allows police to take people’s property without showing that they committed a crime.”
“The court’s ruling is a major first step toward justice for Stephen and all victims of unjust civil forfeiture laws,” said IJ Attorney Ben Field. “If the government wants to take your money or property, it should first have to prove you did something wrong. Nevada law enforcement should have to follow the Nevada Constitution.”
It was in 2021 when highway patrol officers pulled him over while he was driving through the state, en route to visit his daughters in California.
“The officers who pulled him over never alleged he did anything wrong, and Stephen cooperated throughout the ordeal. However, using civil forfeiture, the officers were able to detain Stephen for more than an hour and take his life savings from him,” the IJ reported.
They left him “penniless on the side of the highway,” without even money to buy gas to continue his trip, the IJ documented.
The Nevada Highway Patrol then sent the money to the DEA under “equitable sharing,” “with the expectation that the DEA would circumvent Nevada law to forfeit the money using more government-friendly federal law and then kick back the lion’s share for the NHP to use however it wanted.”
A lawsuit followed and the DEA coughed up the money within a day, and while the claims against the federal agency now are moot, the ruling means a court will have to hold proceedings to determine if Nevada is in violation of laws regarding civil forfeiture, why officers simply take money when it’s cash even though carrying money is not illegal, and the process to provide justice to victims of such state plans.
The IJ explained, “Stephen Lara did everything right. He served his country in the Marines for over 16 years, including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is devoted to his two daughters and has been saving to buy a house where they can live with him. But his plans came crashing down in the winter of 2021, when the Nevada Highway Patrol seized his life savings. The officers knew they had no evidence of any crime, but they took Stephen’s money anyway to hand over to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), in the anticipation that the federal agency could take Stephen’s money and kick back a portion of the proceeds to the Highway Patrol through a program called ‘equitable sharing.'”
The IJ charges that the highway patrol “engineered a reason to pull him over.”