May 5th, 2009 04:01 PM
Tenaha TX police dept...is this for real?
I am not trying to start a flame war. does this really happen? it is kind of unbelievable. I guess if it is true that absolute power can corrupt absolutely even in a small town. what do you guys think?
Texas police shake down drivers, lawsuit claims - CNN.com
TENAHA, Texas (CNN) -- Roderick Daniels was traveling through East Texas in October 2007 when, he says, he was the victim of a highway robbery.
Police in the small East Texas town of Tenaha are accused of unjustly taking valuables from motorists.
1 of 2 The Tennessee man says he was ordered to pull his car over and surrender his jewelry and $8,500 in cash that he had with him to buy a new car.
But Daniels couldn't go to the police to report the incident.
The men who stopped him were the police.
Daniels was stopped on U.S. Highway 59 outside Tenaha, near the Louisiana state line. Police said he was driving 37 mph in a 35 mph zone. They hauled him off to jail and threatened him with money-laundering charges -- but offered to release him if he signed papers forfeiting his property.
"I actually thought this was a joke," Daniels told CNN.
But he signed.
"To be honest, I was five, six hundred miles from home," he said. "I was petrified." Watch CNN's Gary Tuchman try to question officials »
Now Daniels and other motorists who have been stopped by Tenaha police are part of a lawsuit seeking to end what plaintiff's lawyer David Guillory calls a systematic fleecing of drivers passing through the town of about 1,000.
Out of the blue, drivers are pulled over. Their valuables taken ... hundreds of thousands of dollars worth. And you won't believe who's behind it all. "Highway Robbery," an AC360 investigation, tonight at 10 ET.
see full schedule »
"I believe it is a shakedown. I believe it's a piracy operation," Guillory said.
George Bowers, Tenaha's longtime mayor, says his police follow the law. And through her lawyers, Shelby County District Attorney Lynda Russell denied any impropriety.
Texas law allows police to confiscate drug money and other personal property they believe are used in the commission of a crime. If no charges are filed or the person is acquitted, the property has to be returned. But Guillory's lawsuit states that Tenaha and surrounding Shelby County don't bother to return much of what they confiscate.
Jennifer Boatright and Ron Henderson said they agreed to forfeit their property after Russell threatened to have their children taken away.
Like Daniels, the couple says they were carrying a large amount of cash --- about $6,000 -- to buy a car. When they were stopped in Tenaha in 2007, Boatright said, Russell came to the Tenaha police station to berate her and threaten to separate the family.
"I said, 'If it's the money you want, you can take it, if that's what it takes to keep my children with me and not separate them from us. Take the money,' " she said.
The document Henderson signed, which bears Russell's signature, states that in exchange for forfeiting the cash, "no criminal charges shall be filed ... and our children shall not be turned over" to the state's child protective services agency.
Maryland resident Amanee Busbee said she also was threatened with losing custody of her child after being stopped in Tenaha with her fiancé and his business partner. They were headed to Houston with $50,000 to complete the purchase of a restaurant, she said.
"The police officer would say things to me like, 'Your son is going to child protective services because you are not saying what we need to hear,' " Busbee said.
Guillory, who practices in nearby Nacogdoches, Texas, estimates authorities in Tenaha seized $3 million between 2006 and 2008, and in about 150 cases -- virtually all of which involved African-American or Latino motorists -- the seizures were improper.
"They are disproportionately going after racial minorities," he said. "My take on the matter is that the police in Tenaha, Texas, were picking on and preying on people that were least likely to fight back."
Daniels told CNN that one of the officers who stopped him tried on some of his jewelry in front of him.
"They asked me, 'What you are doing with this ring on?' I said I had bought that ring. I paid good money for that ring," Daniels said. "He took the ring off my finger and put it on his finger and told me how did it look. He put on my jewelry."
Texas law states that the proceeds of any seizures can be used only for "official purposes" of district attorney offices and "for law-enforcement purposes" by police departments. According to public records obtained by CNN using open-records laws, an account funded by property forfeitures in Russell's office included $524 for a popcorn machine, $195 for candy for a poultry festival, and $400 for catering.
In addition, Russell donated money to the local chamber of commerce and a youth baseball league. A local Baptist church received two checks totaling $6,000.
And one check for $10,000 went to Barry Washington, a Tenaha police officer whose name has come up in several complaints by stopped motorists. The money was paid for "investigative costs," the records state.
Washington would not comment for this report but has denied all allegations in his answer to Guillory's lawsuit.
"This is under litigation. This is a lawsuit," he told CNN.
Russell refused requests for interviews at her office and at a fundraiser for a volunteer fire department in a nearby town, where she also sang. But in a written statement, her lawyers said she "has denied and continues to deny all substantive allegations set forth."
Russell "has used and continues to use prosecutorial discretion ... and is in compliance with Texas law, the Texas constitution, and the United States Constitution," the statement said.
Bowers, who has been Tenaha's mayor for 54 years, is also named in the lawsuit. But he said his employees "will follow the law."
"We try to hire the very best, best-trained, and we keep them up to date on the training," he said.
The attention paid to Tenaha has led to an effort by Texas lawmakers to tighten the state's forfeiture laws. A bill sponsored by state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, would bar authorities from using the kind of waivers Daniels, Henderson and Busbee were told to sign.
"To have law enforcement and the district attorney essentially be crooks, in my judgment, should infuriate and does infuriate everyone," Whitmire said. His bill has passed the Senate, where he is the longest-serving member, and is currently before the House of Representatives.
Busbee, Boatright and Henderson were able to reclaim their property after hiring lawyers. But Daniels is still out his $8,500.
"To this day, I don't understand why they took my belongings off me," he said
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May 5th, 2009 04:20 PM
Saw this on CNN, if true it is terrible. We have only heard one side of the story though. It will be interesting to see it play out.
May 5th, 2009 05:06 PM
May 5th, 2009 05:08 PM
I don't know if it was CNN or if it was the Houston Chronicle but this is old news! I first heard about this a few months ago at least. If it is true the Justice Department will have a field day with them. I wouldn't mind seeing DPS send a couple of Rangers over there to take a look at things.
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May 5th, 2009 05:10 PM
It would have to be a pretty stupid person to just "bend over" and let this happen.
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May 5th, 2009 05:17 PM
this is crazy..........
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May 5th, 2009 05:34 PM
It doesn't sound like these folks were given much of a choice. Being held incommunicado by local police in a small town where you know nobody and the only way you get to go without trumped up charges or losing your children is to pay off the cops? What else are you going to do? Yell for "help"?
Originally Posted by thebigdl86
May 5th, 2009 05:46 PM
I guess right now the DA is denying anything bad happened, and I guess we owe folks the benefit of the doubt.
Unfortunately, this story is not the first of its kind. Similar has happened in Louisiana, and there have been a couple of threads here about similar events in Arkansas; though for much smaller amounts.
I see two completely different problems behind this kind of stuff. 1) just human behavior, a certain number of bad apples in any bunch; 2) there's something plain wrong about civil forfeiture; how that ever got past the Supremes is beyond me.
It doesn't happen often, but I've been known to go about with thousands of bucks cash on my person. The thought that doing so would be sufficient by itself to be accused of having the money illegally, and having it taken by the law with no recourse, is scary. That is just plain wrong.
Possessing money is no more evidence of a crime than possessing a CHL.
May 5th, 2009 07:05 PM
Didn't anyone refuse to make a statement without an attorney?
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May 5th, 2009 07:20 PM
Refusing to talk doesn't mean you get to keep stuff
Refusing to talk doesn't mean that you will get to keep your stuff.
Originally Posted by retsupt99
Especially, if as alleged, the whole thing was a criminal enterprise run by the officer.
Still, we need to hear the rest of the story. It is just really hard for me to believe that both the officer and the DA were in it together.
May 5th, 2009 07:20 PM
Not the first time I have seen this type of thing happen.... Smart people lawyer up, and refuse the police to search your vehicle, and for 2 MPH they do not have any just cause for anything period!!! I would have their jobs!!!
"The sword dose not cause the murder, and the maker of the sword dose not bear sin" Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac 11th century
May 5th, 2009 08:05 PM
im not trying to come off as a smartass here, but have you ever lived in a small town? i have. i wouldnt be surprised at ALL if somehow the DA was involved somehow. the corruption of some small town law enforcement people is insane.
Originally Posted by Hopyard
but yeah the news has a great way of telling only one side of it. . .
May 5th, 2009 08:10 PM
That is a load of crap right there. Nobody in their right mind would be driving cross country with that much cash for nearly any reason. Certainly not for a real estate transaction. That's what banks and lawyers are for!
They were headed to Houston with $50,000 to complete the purchase of a restaurant, she said
Bad cops? Maybe. Liars making up complaints? Maybe.
It is surely true that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink. Nor can you make them grateful for your efforts.
May 5th, 2009 08:25 PM
Like any other job,there are good cops and bad cops. All government has some type corruption on every level. If humans are involved,you will find greed and corruption of some type,somewhere. If this happened as stated,I would sue and pursue criminal prosecution.
May 5th, 2009 10:26 PM
If they messed with my kids.... the newsapaper headlines would be more like.... "Gun-fight in Texas".
I can name a couple of Kansas towns running some scams, with the DA very involved.
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