The police department of a small Alabama town was nearing bankruptcy due to a lack of ticket revenue, according to AL.com. The cash-strapped department and city council took drastic measures with an assets forfeiture program for those caught speeding.
Now the mayor of the city is blaming the bad press about the sketchy scheme and a seven-plaintiff lawsuit for a drop in revenue, Reason reported. What the department would do is impound vehicles they pulled over using the state’s assets forfeiture law. It allows them to keep 100 percent of the items taken by police. The claim would be that there was a suspicion of drugs or anything they could come up with. That then required owners of those vehicles to pay a $500 impound fee.
The town hired officers and worked with a judge to maintain the program. Those that were hired were often dressed in camouflage that was tucked into dark assault boots. One alleged victim was Trey Crozier, who lost $1,750 to the Castleberry Police Department.
The 550-person town was so furious about the program Mayor J.B. Jackson, who came up with the idea to stop and confiscate vehicles, was booted from office. A municipal court judge and prosecutor were also ousted. Police chief Tracy Hawsey was forced to resign in February.
Lead attorney Richard Nix thinks more than 100 people were probably impacted by the city’s program. All of the belongings and alleged drugs that were seized by police haven’t been located in the investigation. The totality of cash taken estimates $5,500. He claimed that the chief didn’t follow minimal procedural requirements to perform an asset forfeiture.
One plaintiff claimed police stole $3,800 from her vehicle because they said the cash was obviously part of “proceeds from an illegal drug dealing or activity.” She still doesn’t have her car back but there was no record of a civil forfeiture request being filed.
“We didn’t have much so Hawsey come to me and said ‘There is a lot of crime in this town and a lot of drugs coming through this town,'” Jackson told AL.com. “So he said why don’t we set up a court system to get some money coming in.”
The department was created in 2009. At least five police officers were paid more than five times the national per capita average.
“We hired our own DA and own judge,” Jackson revealed. “The revenues started to grow and we built out the police department.”
There’s even evidence of Hawsey gloating on Facebook, according to Nix. He allegedly posted photos of those he arrested and videos showing him joking with them about the arrests. Jackson never denied the department’s program was set up to garner money and turn the department into “policing for profit.”
In wake of the town’s financial crisis, word of the lawsuit spread fast. Suddenly the city was slapped with $60,000 in unpaid bills and six figures in debt. The town is split on whether or not to keep the police department, but townspeople are split on where to go moving forward. The city council voted 3-2 to keep the police department active on a “limited basis.”
Former Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions was one of the greatest proponents of civil forfeiture in the Senate.
“With care—we’ve gotta be careful—and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures,” Sessions told a crowd of law-enforcement officials in Minneapolis in July.