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Dallas K-9 Instrumental in Civil Forfeiture of $106,000 at Love Field Airport Despite There Being no Arrest or Crime

by Jo Ellen Nott

A police dog with the Dallas Police Department sniffed out $106,000 in cash in a traveler’s suitcase on December 2, 2021, at Dallas’ Love Field Airport. The canine, a member of the department’s interdiction unit, pointed his nose in the direction of a 25-year-old woman’s suitcase that contained blankets and two large bubble envelopes filled with cash. The woman was not arrested for any crime, but the money was seized and is subject to the civil forfeiture process. 

The 25-year-old Chicago resident, like any American, was not bound by any law restricting the amount of cash a passenger can carry on a domestic flight. She appears to be a recent victim of the civil asset forfeiture process, which allows law enforcement to seize money or assets they merely suspect may be tied to a criminal activity. Police officers do not have to prove that a crime has been or would be committed but are authorized to confiscate any amount they consider suspicious. Citizens who are on the losing end of the civil asset forfeiture process usually find themselves in the unfortunate position of having to sue the enforcement agency that took their property.

The seizure in Dallas is no exception. Across the U.S. police departments hide behind their badges to pad revenue as they seize individuals’ property without due process. In Nevada, a man’s life savings were confiscated during a routine traffic stop even after the highway patrol officer admitted it was not illegal to carry currency. The Georgia Department of Revenue misappropriated more than $5 million in seized assets and funds. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported the spending by Revenue’s investigation division was “clearly wasteful” and “gave the appearance of extravagance.”  In Oklahoma, district attorneys used forfeitures to improve their personal finances by paying off student loans with seized cash and living in seized houses. 

The young woman from Chicago was allowed to travel on to her destination minus her cash. If she wants to recover her money, she faces traveling back to Dallas to find an attorney who will argue in court that she was not involved in any criminal activity. Subject to a blatantly unfair process, this woman and her legal counsel must prove a negative. To add insult to injury, all of this is on her nickel in addition to being out the original $100,000 plus. 

Like many law enforcement agencies who use civil asset forfeiture as a revenue stream, Harris County, where Dallas’ Love Field airport is located, has a motivating incentive to seize property as they are entitled to a significant percentage of the proceeds. The Institute of Justice (“IJ”), a libertarian public interest law firm, is suing Harris County over its application of Texas’ asset forfeiture law.

Jennifer McDonald, senior research analyst at IJ and author of a report about cash seizures at airports, asserts there is “very little evidence in the data that there is strong criminality tied to these seizures.” McDonald also states that “in most DHS airport currency seizure cases, a person’s only ‘crime’ is failure to file required paperwork.” In the introduction to her report, she urges Congress to reform civil forfeiture “to ensure another innocent American never loses property unjustly.”

Sources:  reason.com, ajc.com, ij.org

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