Pubdate: Mon, 19 Nov 2007
Source: Montgomery Advertiser (AL)
Copyright: 2007 The Advertiser Co.
Note: Letters from the newspaper's circulation area receive publishing priority
Author: Francis X. Gilpin
Cited: Forfeiture Endangers American Rights
Bookmark: (Asset Forfeiture)


Police narcotics officers grabbed $8,000 in cash from a Montgomery man
during a traffic stop last year. Sixteen months later, there are no
drug charges -- and no cash.

Jacquard R. Merritt wants his money back. City police say they don't
have it anymore. The cash was handed over to federal agents, who
deposited it into a forfeiture fund.

In a filing in Montgomery County Circuit Court, a lawyer for Merritt
accused a Montgomery police narcotics squad he said is called the
"Jump Street" squad of "random stopping and searching of young black
men" as part of the "war on drugs."

Montgomery attorney Joe M. Reed claims city police "funneled the
seized currency" to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration "to
deliberately frustrate" Merritt when they knew they "had no probable
cause to seize" the money in the first place.

Merritt, who is black, was arrested after the traffic stop July 28,

The 28-year-old Montgomery resident was booked on misdemeanor charges
stemming from outstanding domestic violence warrants after police
could not find illegal drugs on him or in the automobile, Reed said.

Montgomery police referred questions about Merritt's funds to the DEA
and the city attorney's office.

A woman who refused to identify herself at the DEA's Montgomery office
said during a brief telephone conversation that she was familiar with
the case and that it was under investigation.

Efforts to reach DEA spokespersons in Atlanta and Washington were
unsuccessful. City attorney Kimberly O. Fehl also couldn't be contacted.

Since federal law enforcement officials now have the money, Merritt's
attorney has since filed another lawsuit in federal court asking for
the money's return.

The circuit court suit that Reed filed contends that police attempted
to intimidate Merritt when he returned to police headquarters to ask
for his money to be returned. It quotes Merritt as saying an officer
named T.D. James threatened to charge him with conspiracy, "if he
persisted in his attempt to recover his funds."

The suit says James told Merritt not to worry about the money because
his attorney was lying to him about not being charged, and that a
federal indictment was going to be brought against him on conspiracy

As of Friday, no federal charges had been filed against Merritt in

Eugene W. Reese, a Montgomery County circuit judge, ordered the city
to return the money to Merritt last December unless forfeiture
proceedings were initiated.

Fehl, the city's attorney in the case, said in a court filing that
Reed was notified that Merritt's money would be forfeited to the
federal government Sept. 29, 2006. U.S. Marshals Service forfeiture
specialist Karen A. Chavers said Reed put in a claim for the money,
but that the claim was five days too late.

DEA attorney John J. Cipriani declared Merritt's money officially
forfeited Jan. 30. The federal government planned to engage in what
Chavers called "equitable sharing" of the proceeds, court records show.

Brenda Grantland, a California lawyer and critic of government
forfeiture statutes, said that from her experience in looking into
these cases, she believes the DEA probably will keep 20 percent of the
money and give the rest back to Montgomery police.

Grantland, president of the Forfeiture Endangers American Rights
Foundation, said Merritt's case is typical.

While cash seizures without drug arrests used to be confined to
certain jurisdictions, Grantland said such forfeitures are more
commonplace today.

"They're flourishing everywhere," said Grantland, whose foundation
goes by the acronym FEAR. 
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