When you consider the brouhaha that eminent domain — the government taking your land because it can do better with it — created as an issue a few years ago, it’s amazing that civil forfeiture doesn’t cause the outrage it should.
The practice — confiscating property used in criminal activity — is the poster child for what happens when you give authorities a tool; they’ll expand it in ways lawmakers never intended. Property can be seized by the government upon suspicion of criminal activity.
The Washington Post’s Chris Ingraham, who has covered the issue consistently, today has the latest absurdity.
Border agents found a clip with bullets
in a gun owned by Gerardo Serrano, who was driving from Kentucky to Mexico in September 2015.
He’s never been charged with a crime but the government took his truck anyway.
Apparently he’d been taking pictures of the agents at the crossing and refused to hand over his cellphone.
According to Serrano’s lawsuit, as he tried to explain himself, one of the agents unlocked Serrano’s door, unbuckled his seat belt, and yanked him out of the car.
“I know I didn’t do anything wrong,” Serrano told The Post. “So I say ‘listen, you can’t yank me out like that, I’m an American, you can’t do that to me.’”
The agent took his phone, and demanded Serrano give him the passcode.
Serrano recalls he told the agent to “go get a warrant.”
By this time, other agents had started searching his truck. “I said, ‘Hey listen I have rights, you’re violating my rights, you’re not supposed to do that kind of stuff,’” Serrano recounted.
“I’m sick of hearing about your rights,” the agent said, according to Serrano’s lawsuit. “You have no rights here.”
Eventually, one of the agents searching the truck found an ammunition clip containing five .380-caliber bullets and yelled “we got him!,” according to the lawsuit.
After being held in a cell for three hours, agents gave him his cellphone and told him he was free to go. But they now owned the truck, Ingraham reports, because authorities said he was suspected of transporting items of war.
Serrano is hardly alone. In 2014, law enforcement took over $5 billion worth of cash and property.
It’s been two years and last week he filed suit against the government.
“It’s like there’s a war going on and they want to make war with my Bill of Rights,” Serrano tells Ingraham. “How do they get away with this? How could this happen?”
Because we let it, of course.
That may change. Yesterday, the House of Representatives approved an amendment to the Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act that will roll back Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s expansion of the program, The Intercept reported.
Related: Why civil asset forfeiture simply won’t die (Washington Post)