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Published on Nov 14, 2013
Think speed traps are crooked? A Texas town's "cash for freedom" policy has taken highway robbery to a whole new level.
Imagine getting pulled over while on a family vacation and having small-town cops accuse you and your family of being drug couriers. Then imagine hearing that you have two options: Fork over your cash and continue on your vacation or face felony charges for money laundering and child endangerment, in which case you go to jail and your kids get handed over to foster care. That's what happened to Ron Henderson and Jennifer Boatright while traveling through Tenaha, Texas, a town that regards piracy as just another way to raise revenue.
Henderson and Boatright's case helped launch a class action lawsuit against abusive civil forfeiture laws, laws which allow law enforcement to to shake down people and cash in. And don't be fooled by officers tooling around town in Escalades seized from hotshot drug dealers-- law enforcement often targets those who cannot afford to hire an attorney to fight for the return of their property.
Officers may swipe your property even if you're not charged with a crime. Cops can drive the cars they grab, and seized cash has even been funneled to officers' salaries. Booty is often a large source of law enforcement funding, and last year the Department of Justice pulled in a record $4.2 billion from civil forfeitures.
Mix easy targets with the all-too-common "guilty until proven innocent" presumption, and it's no wonder officers get distracted chasing profit instead of bad guys. In 53 percent of violent crimes nationwide, no one is arrested let alone convicted. So even though it isn't as lucrative as busting people for drug offenses, maybe cops could spend less hunting down cash and cars and more time busting murders and rapists.
"Don't Cops Have Better Things to Do?" is written and directed by Ted Balaker (@tedbalaker). Producer is Matt Edwards (@MattChrisEd). Opening motion graphics by Meredith Bragg. Camera by Paul Detrick. Music by audionautix.com and "The Contessa" is by Maurice and the Beejays (Magnatune Records).