The conversation between the reporter and the Tennessee cop in this article is just surreal.
For more than a year, NewsChannel 5 Investigates has been shining a light on a practice that some call “policing for profit.”
In this latest case, a Monterey police officer took $22,000 off the driver — even though he had committed no crime.
“You live in the United States, you think you have rights — and apparently you don’t,” said George Reby . . .
Reby was driving down Interstate 40, heading west through Putnam County, when he was stopped for speeding.
A Monterey police officer wanted to know if he was carrying any large amounts of cash.
“I said, ‘Around $20,000,'” he recalled. “Then, at the point, he said, ‘Do you mind if I search your vehicle?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t mind.’ I certainly didn’t feel I was doing anything wrong. It was my money.”
That’s when Officer Larry Bates confiscated the cash based on his suspicion that it was drug money.
“Why didn’t you arrest him?” we asked Bates.
“Because he hadn’t committed a criminal law,” the officer answered.
Bates said the amount of money and the way it was packed gave him reason to be suspicious.
“The safest place to put your money if it’s legitimate is in a bank account,” he explained. “He stated he had two. I would put it in a bank account. It draws interest and it’s safer.”
“But it’s not illegal to carry cash,” we noted.
“No, it’s not illegal to carry cash,” Bates said. “Again, it’s what the cash is being used for to facilitate or what it is being utilized for.”
NewsChannel 5 Investigates noted, “But you had no proof that money was being used for drug trafficking, correct? No proof?”
“And he couldn’t prove it was legitimate,” Bates insisted.
I didn’t realize Tennessee’s forfeiture law was quite this absurd:
He said that, while police are required to get a judge to sign off on a seizure within five days, state law says that hearing “shall be ex parte” — meaning only the officer’s side can be heard.
That’s why George Reby was never told that there was a hearing on his case.
“It wouldn’t have mattered because the judge would have said, ‘This says it shall be ex parte. Sit down and shut up. I’m not to hear from you — by statute,” Miles added.
George Reby said that he told Monterey officers that “I had active bids on EBay, that I was trying to buy a vehicle. They just didn’t want to hear it.”
In fact, Reby had proof on his computer.
“On the street, a thousand-dollar bundle could approximately buy two ounces of cocaine,” Bates told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
“Or the money could have been used to buy a car,” we observed.
“It’s possible,” he admitted.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Bates if Reby had told him that he was trying to buy a car?
“He did,” the officer acknowledged.
“But you did not include that in your report,” we noted.
“If it’s not in there, I didn’t put it in there.”
So why did he leave that out?
“I don’t know,” the officer said.
The guy eventually got his money back, but only after four months, and even then only after News Channel 5 started asking questions. He was still required to come back to Tennessee from New Jersey—on his own dime—to claim it. And get this:
He had two clients where police agreed to drop the cases in exchange for a cut of the money — $1,000 in one case, $2,000 in another. In both cases, that was less than what they might have paid in attorney fees.
Miles called that “extortion.”
I’d say he’s right.
Nashville’s New Channel 5 continues to do great work on this topic (and in general, actually). One of their previous reports on forfeiture in Tennessee noted that the vast majority of drug stops on Tennessee interstates were of motorists leaving Nashville, when a drug runner would presumably be flush with cash, than heading into the city, when the car would contain the drugs. Meaning they were willing to let the drugs be sold so they could make a bust that would bring some money back to their respective police agencies.