Cops steal from people they stop

Cops steal from people they stop

EDITORS NOTE: Two Detroit cops are accused of stealing from people they stopped. This is not an isolated incident read below and see how cops are stealing from citizens all across the country, after routine traffic stops.

DETROIT (AP) — Two members of an elite Detroit police unit are accused of stealing money from people they stopped on the street and with fabricating information about an arrest.

Officers Charles Lynem, 28, and Chancellor Searcy, 31, were arraigned Tuesday on embezzlement, larceny, misconduct and falsely reporting a felony charges. Searcy also is charged with failing to uphold the law.

"Whenever an officer is accused of criminal misconduct, certainly it's a dark day for the department," Police Chief James Craig told reporters. "These allegations should not be a reflection of every Detroit police officer."

Lynem and Searcy are seven-year veterans of the department and were partners in Detroit's Tactical Response Unit, which targets crime hotspots across the city. Their arrests followed a yearlong investigation.

They're accused of taking money from three people, starting with a 33-year-old man who was arrested in March 2013 at a gas station. A "sum of money" was confiscated from him, according to the Wayne County prosecutor's office.

"There was wrongful conduct surrounding the detention, frisk, seizure of property and the arrest of the suspect," prosecutors said in a release.

In another instance, a 28-year-old man filed a complaint Aug. 4, 2014, at a police precinct after money was taken from him on the city's west side. Six days later, money was taken from another man's pocket during a pat down. That man also filed a complaint.

Prosecutors also allege that circumstances around a Sept. 27, 2014, arrest of a 41-year-old man on the west side for carrying a concealed weapon were "fabricated."

Related video: Police steal $160,000. after traffic stop

Searcy and Lynem were suspended with pay about a year ago. They were suspended without pay following Tuesday's charges.

"It tarnishes the badge," Craig said of the allegations. "Our men and women who wear the uniform work extremely hard and the vast majority just go out and serve this community with distinction and with honor.
"When someone from the family decides to go in a different direction it's troubling for many of our members."
Searcy and Lynem turned themselves in for arrest Tuesday morning. They were released on personal bond pending Nov. 3 probable cause hearings. Preliminary examinations were scheduled for Nov. 10.
No attorneys were listed in court documents for either officer.

From The New York Times:

''What we're seeing at local police departments is a pattern of greed and corrupt conduct, and it's happening all over the country..."

In New Orleans, 10 officers were convicted for their role in protecting a cocaine supply warehouse containing 286 pounds of cocaine in 1994. In Philadelphia, six officers pleaded guilty to corruption charges including planting drug evidence, conducting illegal searches and lying under oath, and 160 wrongfully convicted prisoners were released. In Chicago, in two unrelated cases in the last year, 10 officers in two police districts were charged with robbing and extorting money and narcotics from drug dealers.

In Washington, after the resignation of the police chief as his close friend and roommate was charged with extortion, city officials are looking into possible corruption in the department. And in Indianapolis, the F.B.I. is investigating the police department after one officer was charged with the death of a suspected drug dealer he was trying to rob.

Federal agents got wind of a corrections officer for the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department, Michael W. Joye, who sold drugs to an undercover agent and indicated he would provide security, first for the smuggling of illegal gambling machines and then for drug deals, according to a 99-page affidavit.

Officer Joye, the affidavit said, recruited 24 other officers and a deputy from the Sheriff's Department, and 18 from four regional police departments -- seven from Cleveland, three from Cleveland Heights, six from East Cleveland and two from Brooklyn -- to help out in the deals.

In what may be the largest and widest ranging police corruption investigation in the country in recent years, 44 officers from five law-enforcement agencies were charged with taking money to protect cocaine trafficking operations in Cleveland and northern Ohio, Federal authorities said.

Related video: Cops Raid Marijuana Dispensary, Destroy Surveillance Equipment, Eat Pot Brownies, Joke About Assaulting Amputee

The arrests were the result of a two-and-a-half-year Federal sting operation, which started out as an inquiry into organized crime in Cleveland, officials said.

Along the way, investigators discovered a large ring of police officers and sheriff's department corrections officers who readily hired themselves out to be escorts and security guards for people they believed to be cocaine traffickers, but who were really undercover Federal agents.

One Officer Joye, who was dismissed, was asked by the undercover agent if the other officers involved were trustworthy.

''I trust my guys real good,'' Officer Joye replied. ''We're a family, and not one of us wants to get busted. Nobody wants to get caught. These guys I have working for me, we're like a specialty, like a goon squad.''

And from The Underground Newz:

The seminars offered police officers some useful tips on seizing property from suspected criminals. Don’t bother with jewelry (too hard to dispose of) and computers (“everybody’s got one already”), the experts counseled. Do go after flat screen TVs, cash and cars. Especially nice cars.

In one seminar, captured on video in September, Harry S. Connelly Jr., the city attorney of Las Cruces, N.M., called them “little goodies.” And then Mr. Connelly described how officers in his jurisdiction could not wait to seize one man’s “exotic vehicle” outside a local bar.

“A guy drives up in a 2008 Mercedes, brand new,” he explained. “Just so beautiful, I mean, the cops were undercover and they were just like ‘Ahhhh.’ And he gets out and he’s just reeking of alcohol.

And it’s like, ‘Oh, my goodness, we can hardly wait.’ ”
Mr. Connelly was talking about a practice known as civil asset forfeiture, which allows the government, without ever securing a conviction or even filing a criminal charge, to seize property suspected of having ties to crime. The practice, expanded during the war on drugs in the 1980s, has become a staple of law enforcement agencies because it helps finance their work. It is difficult to tell how much has been seized by state and local law enforcement, but under a Justice Department program, the value of assets seized has ballooned to $4.3 billion in the 2012 fiscal year from $407 million in 2001. Much of that money is shared with local police forces.
The practice of civil forfeiture has come under fire in recent months, amid a spate of negative press reports and growing outrage among civil rights advocates, libertarians and members of Congress who have raised serious questions about the fairness of the practice, which critics say runs roughshod over due process rights. In one oft-cited case, a Philadelphia couple’s home was seized after their son made $40 worth of drug sales on the porch. Despite that opposition, many cities and states are moving to expand civil seizures of cars and other assets. The seminars, some of which were captured on video, raise a curtain on how law enforcement officials view the practice.

From Orange County, N.Y., to Rio Rancho, N.M., forfeiture operations are being established or expanded. In September, Albuquerque, which has long seized the cars of suspected drunken drivers, began taking them from men suspected of trying to pick up prostitutes, landing seven cars during a one-night sting.

Arkansas has expanded its seizure law to allow the police to take cash and assets with suspected connections to terrorism, and Illinois moved to make boats fair game under its D.W.I. laws, in addition to cars. In Mercer County, N.J., a prosecutor preaches the “gospel” that forfeiture is not just for drug arrests — cars can be seized in shoplifting and statutory rape cases as well.
“At the grass-roots level — cities, counties — they continue to be interested, perhaps increasingly so, in supplementing their budgets by engaging in the type of seizures that we’ve seen in Philadelphia and elsewhere,” said Lee McGrath, a lawyer for the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm that has mounted a legal and public relations assault on civil forfeiture.

Much of the nuts-and-bolts how-to of civil forfeiture is passed on in continuing education seminars for local prosecutors and law enforcement officials, some of which have been captured on video. The Institute for Justice, which brought the videos to the attention of The Times, says they show how cynical the practice has become and how profit motives can outweigh public safety.
In the sessions, officials share tips on maximizing profits, defeating the objections of so-called “innocent owners” who were not present when the suspected offense occurred, and keeping the proceeds in the hands of law enforcement and out of general fund budgets. The Times reviewed three sessions, one in Santa Fe, N.M., that took place in September, one in New Jersey that was undated, and one in Georgia in September that was not videotaped.

Officials offered advice on dealing with skeptical judges, mocked Hispanics whose cars were seized, and made comments that, the Institute for Justice said, gave weight to the argument that civil forfeiture encourages decisions based on the value of the assets to be seized rather than public safety.
In the Georgia session, the prosecutor leading the talk boasted that he had helped roll back a Republican-led effort to reform civil forfeiture in Georgia, where seized money has been used by the authorities, according to news reports, to pay for sports tickets, office parties, a home security system and a $90,000 sports car.
In defense of the practice, Gary Bergman, a prosecutor with the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, said civil forfeiture had been distorted in news reports. “All they hear is the woman was left on the side of the road and the police drove off with her car and her money, no connection to drugs,” he told other prosecutors at the session.
“I’m not saying that that doesn’t happen — it does. It should not. But they never hear about all the people that get stopped with the drugs in their cars, in their houses, the manufacturing operations we see, all the useful things we do with the money, the equipment, vehicles. They don’t hear about that.”

In an interview, Mr. Connelly said that the Las Cruces ordinance does only what the State Supreme Court has said is permissible.
Sean D. McMurtry, the chief of the forfeiture unit in the Mercer County, N.J., prosecutor’s office, said forfeiture contributes to only a small percentage of local budgets but it is a good deterrent and works especially well against repeat offenders, such as domestic violence perpetrators who repeatedly violate a restraining order. “We’re very proud of our forfeiture operation,” he said in an interview.
But in the video, Mr. McMurtry made it clear that forfeitures were highly contingent on the needs of law enforcement. In New Jersey, the police and prosecutors are allowed to use cars, cash and other seized goods; the rest must be sold at auction. Cellphones and jewelry, Mr. McMurtry said, are not worth the bother. Flat screen televisions, however, “are very popular with the police departments,” he said.
Prosecutors boasted in the sessions that seizure cases were rarely contested or appealed. But civil forfeiture places the burden on owners, who must pay court fees and legal costs to get their property back. Many seizures go uncontested because the property is not worth the expense.
And often the first hearing is presided over not by a judge but by the prosecutor whose office benefits from the proceeds, and who has wide discretion in deciding whether to forfeit the property or return it, sometimes in exchange for a steep fine.
Mr. McMurtry said his handling of a case is sometimes determined by department wish lists. “If you want the car, and you really want to put it in your fleet, let me know — I’ll fight for it,” Mr. McMurtry said, addressing law enforcement officials on the video. “If you don’t let me know that, I’ll try and resolve it real quick through a settlement and get cash for the car, get the tow fee paid off, get some money for it.”

One criticism of civil forfeiture is that it results in widely varied penalties — one drunken driver could lose a $100,000 luxury car, while another forfeits a $2,000 clunker.
In an interview, Mr. McMurtry acknowledged that he exercises a great deal of discretion. “The first offense, if it’s not anything too serious, we’ll come up with a dollar amount, depending on the value of the car and the seriousness of the offense,” he said. “I try to come up with a dollar amount that’s not so high that they can’t afford it, but not so low that it doesn’t have an impact. If it’s a second offense, they don’t get it back.”
Prosecutors estimated that between 50 to 80 percent of the cars seized were driven by someone other than the owner, which sometimes means a parent or grandparent loses their car. In the Santa Fe video, a police officer acknowledged that the law can affect families, but expressed skepticism of owners who say they did not know their relative was running afoul of the law.
“I can’t tell you how many people have come in and said, ‘Oh, my hijito would never do that,’ ” he said, mimicking a female voice with a Spanish accent.

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