“Child Snatchers” and Asset Forfeiture in Butte County, CA

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

By Eapen Thampy, cross-posted at Americans for Forfeiture Reform (AFR on Facebook).

Journalist Angela Bacca has a recent article in Skunk Magazine titled “Child Snatchers: How a small Northern California County has manipulated medical marijuana laws and made a lucrative business out of kidnapping children”. I’m excerpting the section where Bacca discusses both the role of asset forfeiture and the predatory use of Child Protective Services by Butte County government (and where yours truly is quoted):

Since the passage of Prop 215 in 1996 small Northern California counties like Butte have been reaping the profits of the gray areas presented in the discrepancy between local and federal marijuana laws, predatory asset forfeiture policy and a failing school system.

Nearly 20% of Butte’s population lives below the Federal poverty line, more than twice the state’s rate and significantly higher than the national average. The cashstrapped school system is notoriously poor and many in the area have not completed a high school education. While the entire state is facing major slashes to the budget, Butte is no exception.

Since the recession began in 2008, the Butte County Board of Supervisors have been forthcoming about their anger, particularly in their fiscal reports, at the state for cutting funding and are scrambling to find additional sources of revenue. Schools and roads in Butte County have lost their upkeep and a once surplus budget in 2008 threatens to be a $2 million deficit by the end of fiscal year 2012, a staggering number for a county population of only 200,000, many of which are not permanent residents but students at nearby Chico State University.

Butte and its surrounding counties have seemingly found the answer to their budget woes. They have manufactured a crisis—the public menace of small, private marijuana farms in remote communities—in order to apply for Federal funding to address it. The system has become so corrupted that the county governmental agencies now work together in symbiotic collusion to exploit legal, compliant marijuana growers.

“Butte County law enforcement have closed their budget gap in part through the revenue generated by the seizure of property,” says Eapen Thampy, Executive Director of Americans for Forfeiture Reform, “With this incentive structure driving the priorities of Butte County law enforcement, it is no surprise that citizens find themselves victimized by the aggressive tactics of their own public agencies.”

Butte County has the last remaining narcotics task force north of Sacramento, the Butte Interagency Narcotics Task Force (BINTF). BINTF has become such a reliable source of revenue that the police, judicial and child protective services have morphed into a parasite, feeding off is own constituency for profit. Amid tight budget woes, last year Butte County purchased a $200,000 armored vehicle complete with turret and battering rams.

According to Thampy, police or task force officers who work these types of raids are able to increase their hourly salary through hazard Pay, overtime or holiday benefits—doubling or tripling their normal hourly rate. For local law enforcement in these small counties a marijuana raid could be as good as a holiday bonus.

Last year, the state eliminated the Campaign to Eradicate Marijuana Production (CAMP), which led exploratory helicopter flights throughout the forests in the northern part of the state to scout of marijuana gardens. CAMP had been in existence since President Nixon escalated the War on Drugs in the 1970s.

Butte County, however, applied for and received Federal funding for BINTF with the original mission of combating rampant methamphetamine production and use in the area. Marijuana proved to be not only more profitable, but a far easier target with the legality of medical marijuana.

Using BINTF helicopters, which fly overhead seven days a week, suspected marijuana grows are mapped out using Google Earth. BINTF, in cooperation with the County Sheriff, perform what they refer to as “compliance checks,” more commonly known in the area as “knock and talks.” They approach properties, private or otherwise, and politely gain entry from growers eager to appease them and evade raid and arrest. Often but not in every case, warrants are issued thereafter and the garden is raided and any property of value is seized and the value distributed through the seizing agencies and often the Federal Department of Justice, through a program called Equitable Sharing.

Furthermore, this particular county has found a way to even make child removal profitable during medical marijuana raids.

“Child Protective Services (CPS) – known as Children’s Services in Butte County—operates under a veil of secrecy and privilege,” states Meredith J. Cooper a journalist with the Chico News and Review. In 2010 she authored an article exposing the corruption and financial incentive in child removal in Butte County.

Cooper’s article goes further, outlining information cited from the Federal Grant’s Wire, Adoption Incentives program. For every foster child-adoption the county receives $4,000 in federal grants, a number that doubles to $8,000 if the child is then adopted after the age of 9. Children who remain in CPS custody represent a federal revenue stream for the county, so much so that Butte ranks #1 in the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform’s rate-of-removal index. Nearly 37% of impoverished children in the county are taken into protective custody in Butte County every year—more so than even the more notoriously dangerous and densely populated parts of the state like Oakland, Stockton and Los Angeles.

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21 Responses to ““Child Snatchers” and Asset Forfeiture in Butte County, CA”

  1. #1 |  tarran | 

    I feel nauseous having read this.

  2. #2 |  Deoxy | 

    Nearly 37% of impoverished children in the county are taken into protective custody in Butte County every year

    This is unbelievably unlikely – it is a great example of innumeracy.

    Either that has happened, like, ONCE (one year), or the population of the poor children is that country is contracting at Black Death-like rates, and the problem will solve itself very shortly (as there will be no more poor children to take, other than whatever infants are born each year).

    Yes, the rest of the article is pretty scary, but that bit is laughable.

  3. #3 |  CyniCAl | 

    The State has just one prime directive: survival.

    The State depends on money to survive; ergo, it will obtain that money by any means necessary. And since the State has a monopoly on violence in its jurisdiction, it should be unsurprising that violence is its method of choice.

    As the shit continues to hit the fan, with municipalities all across the US either facing bankruptcy or actively pursuing it, expect these kinds of incidents to increase proportionately.

    And, as usual, you Joe Citizen, and I, will continue to take it in the ass. Welcome to the new normal.

  4. #4 |  Jeff R | 

    @#2, it could also be the case that 37% have some type of coerced interaction with CPS each year, during which time they’re in protective custody, although the overwhelming majority of that group probably returns home relatively quickly. Agree that it seems like a misleading stat.

  5. #5 |  Nick | 

    “The system has become so corrupted that the county governmental agencies now work together in symbiotic collusion to exploit legal, compliant marijuana growers.”

    They are NOT legal growers. State law means jack shit if federal law prohibits it. All these medical marijuana state initiatives are a waste of time, money, and resources that would be better spent on full on federal legalization.

  6. #6 |  Silver Fang | 

    Time for the citizens of Butte County to exercise their Second Amendment rights.

  7. #7 |  BamBam | 

    @5

    State law means jack shit if federal law prohibits it.

    The ink on paper Constitution does not enumerate federal .gov to determine who gets to ingest what. By the same logic of “laws are the rules”, therefore the 10th Amendment applies — in the absence of federal law, it is left up to the state .gov.

    One cannot say laws apply, but then ignore other laws/rules. It is not credible to behave in such a manner. I know what reality is, but the reality is illegal and immoral and hypocritical. Why call for the more laws, when existing laws are ignored by the same entity?

  8. #8 |  Dante | 

    Save the Children!

    Oh, wait…..

  9. #9 |  nemo | 

    And what happens when things get so bad that Joe Citizen starts asking questions, like “Why do we need such expensive toys to beat up on ‘pot-heads’ when my kids need the money for school lunches?”

    Alcohol Prohibition died in no small part because we simply could not afford it anymore. Drug prohibition will meet the same end…but only after that question is asked, angrily, in every State.

  10. #10 |  liberranter | 

    @9: While I would like to hope that Joe Citizen eventually does ask such a question, Joe should’ve asked that question A LONG TIME AGO – like, forty-plus years ago. If Joe has been too slow on the uptake to ask such a question before now, it hardly seems likely that he’ll cultivate sufficient new brain cells and critical thinking skills to enable him to do so in the immediate future.

    Again, I hope I’m wrong in my assumption, but the evidence before my eyes and ears doesn’t seem encouraging.

  11. #11 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    “According to Thampy, police or task force officers who work these types of raids are able to increase their hourly salary through hazard Pay…”

    Hazard pay, huh. I doubt menacing people who have small marijuana farms is that hazardous. But if these bastards keep taking people’s children, then it might get that way. Another fine example of the state profiting off of the misery of poor people. Now if only private correctional companies could get in on this action.

    “I learned a thing or two from Charlie, don’t ya know
    Better stay away from Copperhead Road”
    Steve Earle

  12. #12 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    If the allegations against Child Services are even close to true, everybody involved should be tried on charges of kidnapping, enslavement (i.e. deprivation of liberty for reasons of profit. I know it isn’t a perfect fit), and anything else necessary to put the ringleaders at risk of their lives. This is disgusting.

  13. #13 |  Erica Warren | 

    Excellent post, Eapen!

  14. #14 |  Jim | 

    See the other timely posting about ‘absolute immunity’ to understand why that would never, ever happen. The State protects its own.

  15. #15 |  CyniCAl | 

    Active words in CSP’s comment: “should be.”

    Quite a difference between “is” and “ought” I’m afraid.

  16. #16 |  Angela Bacca | 

    Perhaps it was unclear wording, the 37% number does not refer to the amount of children currently in custody but the proportion of children taken into custody at any given time during the last year in proportion to the amount of children in the county. There is no way to determine how many of these children go in and back out but the number is the highest per capita in the nation. around 40% of children in the county have been removed (although likely released afterwards).

  17. #17 |  Deoxy | 

    around 40% of children in the county have been removed (although likely released afterwards).

    If it averages 37% a year, and 40% of the current children have been at one time or another, that represents an ANNUAL recidivism (for lack of a better term) rate of over 90% (that is, over 90% of all children that have been taken by the state before are taken by the state again).

    Every year.

    Yeah, that’s still really REALLY hard to believe, even given the other stuff listed above.

  18. #18 |  James Hare | 

    “$2 million deficit by the end of fiscal year 2012, a staggering number for a county population of only 200,000″

    $10 per person is “staggering?” That’s some pretty stupid hyperbole.

  19. #19 |  Missing Links « The Honest Courtesan | 

    […] Major human trafficking ring exposed:  37% of poor children in one California county are literally abducted from their homes, enabling traffickers to make up to $8000 apiece. […]

  20. #20 |  Asset forfeiture roundup - Overlawyered | 

    […] busts accompanied by aggressive forfeitures; in a perhaps not unrelated phenomenon, the county snatches kids from parents at an exceedingly high rate. More on child protective services in Butte County at the Chico News […]

  21. #21 |  Rwolf | 

    Without a Warrant: Police Drones—Recording Telephone & Private Conversations In Your Home & Business To Forfeit Property?

    It is problematic local police will want to use drones to record without warrants telephone and private conversations inside Americans’ homes and businesses: Despite some U.S. cities and counties banning or restricting local police using drones without warrants to invade citizens’ privacy, local police have a strong financial incentive (Civil Asset Forfeiture) to use their drones or Federal Drones. Should (no-warrant) drone surveillance evidence be allowed in courts—circumventing the Fourth Amendment, for example drones covertly recording private conversations and electronic communications in Citizens’ homes and businesses, expect federal and local police Civil Asset {Property Forfeitures to escalate. Civil asset forfeiture requires only a mere preponderance of civil evidence for federal government to forfeit property, little more than hearsay: Any conversation, phone call or other electronic communication captured by a drone inside a home or business, police could take out of context to initiate arrests and civil asset forfeitures to confiscate a home, business and related assets. Local police now circumvent state laws that require someone first be convicted of a crime before police can civilly forfeit their property—by referring their investigation to a Federal Government Agency that may legally rebate to local police up to 80% of assets the Feds forfeit. Federal Government is not required to charge anyone with a crime to civilly forfeit property. There are more than 350 laws and violations that can subject property to state and federal government asset forfeiture in addition to illegal drug forfeiture laws. Increasingly local police are paid part or all their salary from proceeds realized from civil and criminal asset forfeiture. Police have to confiscate Citizens’ property to keep their job. This is a clear conflict of interest. At the least, Congress should require the Federal Government prove by Clear and Convincing Evidence that a property is subject to Civil Asset Forfeiture, not a mere preponderance of civil evidence, little more than hearsay.

    The passed Federal “Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000” effectively eliminated the “five year statue of limitations” for Government Civil Asset Forfeiture: the statute now runs five years (from the date) police allege they “learned” an asset became subject to forfeiture. It is foreseeable should (no warrant) government-drone electronic surveillance be admissible in courts, police will relentlessly sift through Citizen and businesses’ (drone captured emails, Internet data, private conversations and phone communications seized on private property in hopes of discovering crime or civil violation to cause arrests and property forfeitures. It is problematic without public oversight, a corrupt U.S. Government agency or local police, may use drone no-warrant searches of Citizens’ emails, Internet data and phone call communications to extort and blackmail Americans; sell (no-warrant drone acquired physical and electronic surveillance information) seized from Americans and private businesses.

    Almost every week the media reports police arrested and convicted for selling drugs, extorting drug dealers, falsifying reports to cause arrests; perjury in court. It is foreseeable this kind of corruption will find its way into government / police drone search and seizure of lawful Citizens’ private property to cause arrests and property forfeiture.

    Under U.S. federal civil forfeiture laws, a person or business need not be charged with a crime for government to forfeit their property. Most U.S. Citizens, property and business owners that defend their assets against Government Civil Asset Forfeiture claim an “innocent owner defense.” This defense can become a “Catch 22” criminal prosecution trap for both guilty and innocent property owners. Any fresh denial of guilt made to government when questioned about committing a crime “even when you did not do the crime” may (involuntarily waive) a defendant’s right to assert in their defense—the “Criminal Statute of Limitations” past for prosecution; any fresh denial of guilt even 30 years after a crime was committed may allow Government prosecutors to use old and new evidence, including information discovered during a Civil Asset Forfeiture Proceeding to launch a criminal prosecution. For that reason many innocent Americans, property and business owners are reluctant to defend their property and businesses against Government Civil Asset Forfeiture.

    Re: waiving Criminal Statute of Limitations: see USC18, Sec.1001, James Brogan V. United States. N0.96-1579. U.S. See paragraph (6) at:
    http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/96-1579.ZC1.html

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