Why Don’t You Just Let Us Hold On To That

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Customers leave a struggling waitress a $12,000 tip. Thinking they may have accidentally left it behind, the waitress calls the police. When the deadline for someone to claim the money passes, the police then tell the waitress that, well, they’re going to keep the money, because it’s probably drug money. They do generously offer to giver her $1,000 for letting them seize her cash.

Of course, even if it was drug money, the waitress had nothing to do with the drug crimes behind the money. And once the cash was given to her, I think most reasonable people would agree she should be allowed to keep it (the exception would of course be if it had been stolen).

But the legal fiction underlying civil asset forfeiture is that the property is guilty of the crime. So if the money was used in a drug transaction (and some jurisdictions now even argue if the money will be used in a transaction at some point in the future), the money itself is at fault, and must be forfeited, no matter who happens to be in possession of it.

Once the cash is deemed guilty, the government gets to keep it. And spend it on government things.

I guess at that point the cash is no longer guilty.  It’s just dirty.

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66 Responses to “Why Don’t You Just Let Us Hold On To That”

  1. #1 |  Difster | 

    As I said on my FB wall, NEVER turn anything over to the police. If you must be diligent about returning someone’s lost property, find another way. Never let them take possession of it.

  2. #2 |  jb | 

    My head is exploding.

  3. #3 |  K | 

    “Two other restaurant employees who were working at the time said in affidavits that they also stood over the box but didn’t smell marijuana, despite both being familiar with the drug.”

    Ha

  4. #4 |  Bob | 

    A police dog also performed a sniff test on the money, and his handler believed the dog detected an odor,

    Oh, I’m sure THAT test was done in a controlled, double blind manner, you know how the police are sticklers for following proper scientific protocols!

  5. #5 |  Stephen Spiker | 

    It’s alright, the government will spend that money more wisely than she would anyways.

  6. #6 |  Burgers Allday | 

    I wonder if she had to relinquish her claim on the other $11,000 to get the $1,000. That’s how they really twist the knife.

  7. #7 |  Thom | 

    I can’t wait to see how the IRS rules on whether she was left a $12,000 tip or not.

  8. #8 |  SJE | 

    So well paid agents of the state are now stealing tips from a waitress, who makes below minimum wage. What’s next? Killing old people, tazering school children, killing dogs for fun…..oh wait. Who ARE these people?

  9. #9 |  hewler | 

    When is someone going to bring to justice the entity that keeps creating all this crime committing property?

  10. #10 |  Mykeru | 

    I’m sure that the police view honest, law-abiding citizens who were raised on the “cops are your friend” myth as wolves look on fat, dumb sheep.

  11. #11 |  Mykeru | 

    @hewler

    I suspect that even as we speak, we have dollars in our wallets that are fugitives from justice.

  12. #12 |  Mike the... | 

    “It was only $20, I swear.” – The cop that took the money “…and it was drug money becaue I took the drugs aswell.”

  13. #13 |  EBL | 

    These forfeiture laws have to end. At least as they are being imposed now. The conflict of interest is just too much.

  14. #14 |  Marty | 

    this’ll teach that money to mess with drugs.

  15. #15 |  MH | 

    “Thinking they may have accidentally left it behind, the waitress calls the police. ”

    The story says the customer specifically told her to keep the bag full of money. That would have been good enough for me.

  16. #16 |  Robert Y | 

    She’s just lucky they didn’t kill her dogs and/or her. That’ll teach you to call the police.

  17. #17 |  MacK | 

    “A police dog also performed a sniff test on the money, and his handler believed the dog detected an odor,”

    Just what does that mean? Oh! Yea the odor of bullshit!

  18. #18 |  NL_ | 

    $12k huh? I wonder how much was in the box BEFORE police counted it.

  19. #19 |  Cyto | 

    #6 | Thom |

    This is the most salient take here. Remember when McGwire hit his record setting home run the guy who caught the ball couldn’t just give it back to McGwire it because the IRS warned that it deemed him to be in receipt of the ball and he’d owe over $150k in “gift taxes” if he did?

    Which meant he’d have to sell the ball to pay his income taxes on it instead. They later offered to suspend the gift tax if he gave the ball back – which he did. (forfeiting the right to deduct the charitable donation to the Hall of Fame – oops, bad tax advice from the IRS)

  20. #20 |  Pinandpuller | 

    Cops are pretty much lousy tippers and they don’t pay for coffee anywhere I’ve ever been-now they want other people’s tips? I mean sure, they say send us your tips but really? I will be damned if I tell anyone about my tips.

  21. #21 |  Danny | 

    Like I said — keepin’ it gangsta!

    Money, gats, attack dogs … it’s a lifestyle.

  22. #22 |  Bill Poser | 

    Did the police even invoke civil forfeiture procedures? It sounds like they just announced they were keeping the cash and gave a drug investigation as the reason.

  23. #23 |  Big A | 

    If the dog smelled marijuana, why is there a suspicion of narcotics?

  24. #24 |  Aresen | 

    @ Big A:

    Although thinking people realize that MJ is not a narcotic, the DEA and LEOs consider it one.

    WRT the waitress and the tip: I wonder why the guy who left it did not come forward? He probably could have saved her a lot of grief. I just realized how dumb that was. The guy who left it probably realized that HE’D be in shit if he came forward.

  25. #25 |  Jeremy | 

    It’s just fiat money anyway.

  26. #26 |  Charlie O | 

    Another reminder to NEVER, EVER called the cops. For any reason. Ever.

  27. #27 |  ShelbyC | 

    ” (the exception would of course be if it had been stolen).”

    No, generally you can keep cash that you obtain legitimately even if it’s stolen, right?

  28. #28 |  CyniCAl | 

    None of us here would make the mistake the waitress made. None of us would call the cops, right?

    NEVER CALL THE COPS.

  29. #29 |  CharlesWT | 

    Déjà vu

  30. #30 |  Personanongrata | 

    Customers leave a struggling waitress a $12,000 tip. Thinking they may have accidentally left it behind, the waitress calls the police.

    The waitress learned a very expensive message:

    Never call the police

    This time calling the police cost her $12,000 the next time it could cost a life especially if the adrenaline junkies masquerading as law enforcement officers think there are drugs involved.

  31. #31 |  freedomfan | 

    Seems like these police departments and prosecutors’ offices are are quick to “no comment” on cases like this. Which is probably smart on their part. I really doubt that the forfeiture racket would be all that popular if it ever got enough attention that people realized that civil (not criminal) asset forfeiture is NOT money taken from drug kingpins, which is how it is falsely portrayed. Civil asset forfeiture is the government taking money (and other assets) taken from the owners 1) typically without those owners ever having been convicted of anything; 2) quite often without those owners ever having been even charged with anything; 3) and even without proving that any crime took place at all, much less that the owners were involved in it. Such a thing results in cases that are clearly unjust to the asset owners and involves obvious incentives for corruption of the authorities who get to keep all or part of the loot. Even a public that generally thinks authority figures are trustworthy would turn against civil asset forfeiture if they knew how often it was abused and how much an innocent person had to go through to get things put right when their stuff is seized.

  32. #32 |  30 year lawyer | 

    It’s getting to where the general public (whose cooperation is vital to legitimate policing) is learning NEVER TO COOPERATE with the police. It is one lesson that is taught in ghettos and gated communities. And every day more Americans learn it.

    This will not end well for the police.

  33. #33 |  rmv | 

    @30 Personanongrata

    To be fair, the cops only stole 11k. They “gave” her 1k. I’m sure with the hopes that she’d keep her trap shut.

  34. #34 |  Bob | 

    #32: 30 year lawyer

    It’s getting to where the general public (whose cooperation is vital to legitimate policing) is learning NEVER TO COOPERATE with the police. It is one lesson that is taught in ghettos and gated communities. And every day more Americans learn it.

    This will not end well for the police.

    Why? It’s no skin off the police’s ass if they can’t actually solve a crime… they just ramp up the confession process. This “legitimate policing” you mention no longer seems to apply.

    The people for whom this will not end well for is us.

  35. #35 |  Michael Chaney | 

    I found a wallet last year in the middle of the street near a shopping area. I picked it up and my wife and I debated whether to just give it to the police or take it to the owner. I figured she had *just* dropped it, so I looked at her driver’s license and went straight to her house. She and her husband were busy canceling credit cards and were so happy to get it back. There was some cash in it, but I didn’t bother to look to see how much.

    Thank God I read this blog, otherwise I would have probably just taken it to the police so I wouldn’t have to deal with it. And it’s hard to say what would have happened. As it is, she got all her money back.

  36. #36 |  Other Sean | 

    This is even worse than you think. Like most government workers, cops are totally indifferent to matters of money and revenue. They don’t seize cash like this because of an incentive to collect funds for their employer. In fact, they usually hate their bosses and their political masters with a passion.

    The sick part is that cops seize cash in cases like this because they can, because it gives them a story to tell, because it buys them some bragging rights, and most of all because after just a few years on the job they assimilate the idea that everyone is pretty much guilty of something, so whatever.

    (Given the sheer number of laws and offenses on the books now now, of course we all are.)

  37. #37 |  CharlesWT | 

    Over the years, I’ve found billfolds, purses, pocketbooks, driver licenses, credit cards, checkbooks, checks, etc. I’ve been able to return belongings with identifiable owners without going anywhere near the police.

  38. #38 |  JOR | 

    “. . . and some jurisdictions now even argue if the money will be used in a transaction at some point in the future . . .”

    Really, now? Any coin or FRN is probably going to get used for any naughty thing you could possibly imagine at some point. The whole point of money is to be completely fungible, after all. That’s just insane.

  39. #39 |  The Crip Bandit | 

    #35.

    You were lucky. I have seen various police agencies running stings where they leave a purse or wallet in a parking lot, then arrest the person who picks it up, if they don’t take it to the store office as soon as it is found.

  40. #40 |  Joel | 

    It would be funny if the customer sent his lawyer to the D.A.s office with a lawsuit threatening to sue for accusing his client of having drug money.

    I figure if you can drop 12 k, you could afford a real good lawyer.

  41. #41 |  Matt | 

    OK, so… 100% agreed on all the comments about the behavior of the cops in this case, but Balko’s post is highly misleading unless he’s done some actual reporting on this story that we don’t know about and that contradicts the story he links to. Before I clicked through to the Duluth News Tribune story I was under the impression that some goodhearted group of diner patrons had dug deep and made this donation to their favorite struggling waitress. The actual circumstances surrounding where the money came from are far more suspicious.

    That’s not at all to undercut the waitress’s obvious innocence or the total asshattery of the cops. But I’m not sure why Balko needs to manipulate an article like this when there’s no shortage of clearly criminal behavior by law enforcement to report on. Not sure Agitator readers need help getting more fired up than we already are, ya know?

  42. #42 |  Pablo | 

    #39 Crip Bandit–yes I’ve read of that sort of thing too. Many jurisdictions have laws prohibiting “theft of lost/mislaid property” which means that if you don’t move fast enough to return lost property the police can arrest you for being in possession of it. I’ve often thought that if I saw money, a wallet, etc laying on the ground, or otherwise apparently lost, the safest course of action would be to just leave it there and walk away.

  43. #43 |  Chicagojon | 

    From the article: “A police dog also performed a sniff test on the money, and his handler believed the dog detected an odor, the lawsuit states.”

    Of course he believed the dog detected an odor. To cops with dogs all cash reeks of weed.

  44. #44 |  Jesse | 

    It’s unfortunate that the paper didn’t try to track down the customer so she could state for the record that yes, it was a tip, which would then be printed in the story. Exposing the cops for the thieves they are.

  45. #45 |  Radley Balko | 

    But I’m not sure why Balko needs to manipulate an article like this when there’s no shortage of clearly criminal behavior by law enforcement to report on.

    What did I manipulate? The customers did leave the money behind. She ran out and tried to give the box to them as they were leaving. They told her to keep it. Presumably they knew what was in the box, right? They never claimed the money. I don’t see where I wrote something misleading.

  46. #46 |  Aresen | 

    @ Jesse | April 5th, 2012 at 10:08 am

    Except the customers probably realized by that point that coming forward would only get them in deep shit, so decided to keep silent.

  47. #47 |  Jeff | 

    If she felt the need to call the police, she should have called Barney Miller. (The guy-finds-cash bit was one of my favorites.)

  48. #48 |  CyniCAl | 

    I think I discovered the world’s only good cop:

    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-inmate-golf-20120405,0,3542308.story?track=rss

  49. #49 |  croaker | 

    And people wonder why I’d rather live next to a crack house than a cop.

  50. #50 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    And people wonder why I’d rather live next to a crack house than a cop.

    Presumably for some other reason than readily available supply of crack.

  51. #51 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    Living next to a marijuana grow house sucks. It smells really nasty. Everyone nearby reported it because of that.

    The police? Well, eventually they got round to raiding it. Two weeks after they’d vacated the place.

  52. #52 |  SeanSatori | 

    LOL…the moment this news story popped up in my feed, I knew Radley had probably already written about it.

  53. #53 |  Shhted | 

    Update: She gets to keep it all!
    http://www.startribune.com/local/146315905.html

  54. #54 |  kurt | 

    Hot off the press.
    http://www.startribune.com/local/146315905.html

    She gets to keep the money, at least according to this report from the StarTribune. Good news

  55. #55 |  Goober | 

    The state is in far more need of that money than she is. They have Bearcats to buy, for goodness sake. What does she need to do? Feed her kids? pshaw.

  56. #56 |  Goober | 

    @ #53 – Looks like shedding the light of day on this story got some good results. Seems that the PD there has some shame, after all.

  57. #57 |  jmcross | 

    Meanwhile, somewhere deep in the bowels of MPD’s K9 compound, Officer Rusty contemplates his water bowl, his kibble and his demons.

  58. #58 |  Burgers Allday | 

    Yup. Whoever got that story in the paper in the first place deserves a third of it, whether it was her lawyer or someone else. That could not have been easy.

  59. #59 |  CyniCAl | 

    I’ll lay 7:5 that Stacy Knutsen gets some extra special attention from the local PD from now on.

  60. #60 |  Matt in Cincy | 

    I thought your headline was misleading too Radley. Maybe it’s me and the other Matt’s name. It wasn’t a tip for her, and when she caught up with the person she said “you keep it, I’m good”. Makes me think she was having second thoughts about a possible career path. Now at that point I don’t know why the waitress still called the cops unless SHE felt like it was drug money. I actually fear for the life of the woman who left it behind. I’m thinking she was a courier for a drug dealer and decided to get out.

  61. #61 |  Burgers Allday | 

    I’ll lay 7:5 that Stacy Knutsen gets some extra special attention from the local PD from now on.

    at policeone, the popos were glad she got it back.

    I don’t think popos feel strongly about this kind of “interdiction” because it is not a career path (as contrasted with, say, searching cars).

  62. #62 |  Arthur | 

    #55 Yep, the coproaches do scurry for cover when that kitchen light clicks on.

  63. #63 |  Delta | 

    #36 | Other Sean: “This is even worse than you think. Like most government workers, cops are totally indifferent to matters of money and revenue. They don’t seize cash like this because of an incentive to collect funds for their employer.”

    What I was told by an NYPD acquaintance is that this is referred to internally as “paying the rent”, and that it’s drilled into them monthly that their uniforms, badges, boots, cars, etc., have to paid for by revenue-acquisition means (tickets, etc.).

  64. #64 |  John C. Randolph | 

    The cops stole twelve grand from a woman who shouldn’t have trusted them. That’s the long and short of it, and if I were in her shoes I’d file a criminal complaint for grand larceny, and PRESS CHARGES.

    If the local DA won’t step up and prosecute the perps, then she should file federal charges and name him as an accessory to the crime. If she needs help litigating this, I know I’d happily chip in a few bucks to a legal action fund, and I’m sure there are thousands of people on Reddit who’d do likewise.

    -jcr

  65. #65 |  CyniCAl | 

    You’re probably right Burgers. Cops aren’t vindictive, petty assholes who hold grudges against “inferiors” who show them up and have virtually unlimited power to take revenge against them and ruin their lives.

    My bad.

  66. #66 |  Youguessedit | 

    Welcome to the fascist states of amerika. One more reason why you should NEVER, under any circumstances or for any reason whatsoever, trust a cop.

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