Do you mind if we violate your rights? No, not all of your rights, just most of your rights.
In April 2013 William Davis and John Newmerzhycky were driving back to California from a World Series of Poker event. They were pulled over in Iowa—the cops claimed they didn't use their signal when changing lanes. A subsequent search turned up just over $100,000 in cash and a little bit of marijuana, and the cops just had to take that money. They let the men leave sans money with a citation for possession of marijuana paraphernalia (carrying a $65 fine).
Well, now those two men are suing, and a judge says they can.
U.S. District Judge James Gritzner chose not to dismiss the lawsuit brought against troopers Justin Simmons and Eric VanderWiel, as well as Desert Snow, an increasingly-scrutinized private company that trains officers on conducting roadside searches to find drugs, cash, guns and other contraband. The lawsuit and civil liberties advocates have criticized Desert Snow for teaching questionable practices, such as singling out vehicles with out-of-state plates for stops and searches.
The Poweshiek County Attorney's Office sought to seize the money under Iowa's civil forfeiture law, but ultimately returned $90,000 to the California men through a settlement agreement. Newmerzhycky pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia charge.
The men have said that in suing the police and the private "training" company, they hope to get back some of the money it cost to get back their stolen money in the first place. In the video you can see that they actually do signal when changing lanes and you get to watch, firsthand, how absolutely sleazy and unethical these police officers can be when they smell money.
“Do you got any drugs?” Simmons asked on the video recording that was later obtained by his lawyer. “Any large amounts of U.S. currency?”
“Absolutely not,” Newmerzhycky said.
“Nothing in there? Could I search your car?”
“I don’t see any reason to. I’m not going to consent to that.”
“Okay. I’m just asking you if I can,” Simmons said.
Well, that's that, right? Well, no it isn't. Officer Simmons then asks if they could hang around so he could have a drug dog walk around the car. The driver says he doesn't want to wait. He asks if he has the right to say no? The cop has to tell him yes, he does indeed have the right to say no. So the driver says no. Well, that's that, right? Nope. The police officer then starts to stall him some more by saying he seems nervous and fidgety—probably the result of the obvious "shakedown" this officer is putting on him.
The two men have said that they lied about the money because they were afraid what ended up happening would happen—the police would take their money.
That wasn’t the end of it, though. The day of the traffic stop, one of the state investigators had called authorities in Humboldt County, Calif., who raided the men’s homes the next day. They found that each was growing marijuana.
California authorities brought criminal charges against them for unlawful cultivation of marijuana, possession of marijuana with intent to sell, and providing a place for the use, storage, manufacturing of a controlled substance.
Uh oh. Except when California found out more and more details (and probably saw the video) of the traffic stop, they dropped their charges against the two men. Also, an important note: both men have permits to grow marijuana for personal medicinal purposes.
“We’re moving to dismiss in the interest of justice because the officers that conducted the search warrants here in California were given information from an officer who was out of state,” the prosecutor told a judge in Humboldt County. “The officer who was out of state got it from a traffic stop, but the traffic stop was done without probable cause.”
The prosecutor added: “The People realize that everything else would be fruit of the poisonous tree.”
Watch the stop from the cops' dash cam below the fold. It is infuriating. I hope the men get everything they want out of the lawsuit.
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