A sheriff in Oklahoma and one of his deputies were arrested on charges of extortion and bribery last week stemming from a traffic stop in which they use asset forfeiture, also known as legalized theft by government, when they extorted cash from a motorist in a car stop.
Sheriff Bob Colbert and Deputy Jeffrey Gragg from Wagner County Sheriff’s office took $10,000 in cash that they claimed was drug proceeds in a vehicle stop. The grand jury however decided that was actually a criminal activity that occurred on the Sheriff’s part and returned an indictment alleging the two officers had conspired to get the driver and his passenger to voluntarily hand over the cash for not pursuing drug charges against them.
The Sheriff and the deputy were booked and released at the jail last Thursday, and the grand jury is also recommended that the Sheriff be removed from office.
As this issue is being debated across the country, Oklahoma lawmakers and law enforcement are entering into serious debates about the asset forfeiture laws. And as in a report recently released by a Department of Justice asset forfeitures assets, in 2014, exceeded the total assets received by all the burglaries in this country combined. I think that is an interesting statistic myself.
Many people have become critical of the asset forfeiture system, including myself, as some call it policing for-profit. Now remember most of the assets that are forfeited never involved in any type of criminal charges ever been filed, and as it appears in this case it was used as a tool to extort money from these motorists. And this particular case has a strong odor of bribery to it.
The grand jury apparently felt that these law enforcement officers had stepped over the line between civil forfeiture and extortion.
Oklahoma attorney general claimed the driver and his passenger had initially claimed an ownership in the cash meaning they were prepared to challenge the seizure.
The Sheriff been arrested the men for possession of drug proceeds and took him to the jail for processing. One of the men told the Sheriff he was on parole at asked what he could do to stay out of jail, and Sheriff Gragg told him the only way he was going to go home was to disclaim ownership in the $10,000 cash
The grand jury felt that both Colbert and Gragg has accepted a bribe from Wallace and the passenger when he was forced to disclaim any interest in the cash. Both motorists, one of them being a juvenile, where immediately released and all records were destroyed. The cash was placed in a Sheriff’s drug forfeiture account with the County Treas.’s office.
That must be noted this cash did not go into the pockets of the officers and did go into the Sheriff’s Department forfeiture fund. An attorney for one of the officers claimed it was a routine drug interdiction and a lawful seizure.
The attorney also claimed that there is no evidence to support the accusation that jail records were deleted. And she’s probably right, how do you prove a record was deleted after it’s been deleted or destroyed?
I don’t know about you but forcing somebody to give up $10,000 cash and make it appear that the arrest never happened, as maybe become routine across this country and I personally consider that a problem.
I remember when the asset forfeiture programs were first started, and was a very good program to let criminals especially drug dealers pay for the law enforcement used against them. Then as usually what happens, because human nature sucks, it starts getting used in a large way that it was not intended. You have people that are not, nor ever, been involved in any type of criminal activity that are being stopped at the airports, on the roadways, while on vacation or traveling end up having their property taken away from them simply because law enforcement has decided to start policing for-profit.
It must be also noted that the adult motorist in the car had pled guilty in federal court last year to conspiring to distribute methamphetamine in Missouri, and instead of pursuing charges to keep a drug dealer off the street they chose to just take his money and let them continue on with his business.
That is flagrant policing for-profit and no longer law enforcement.
And the big difference here in this case is that the official records were deleted, where these type of activities have been going on for some time now and it is obvious that this type of activity can lead to a conflict of interest for law enforcement. Are they out to collect money from the public? Or are they out working against the criminal element?
There is one particular Oklahoma State Sen. that is fighting to remove all asset forfeiture abilities from law enforcement, I will not reveal his name because they love the grandstand for the media and I will give him his props when he actually does something and not talk about it.
He was quoted as saying this is just the latest sign of the practice that need to be overhauled in Oklahoma. He also stated that is an example of public safety taken a backseat to civil asset forfeiture and cash generation, and I agree the ability to pay for your freedom should not be an option in the criminal justice system because then it is nothing but a bribe not justice.
It must be noted to that there is outrage among the law enforcement community especially the police Chiefs Associations, in regards to the efforts to stop this ability. It obviously has become too large a part of their budgeting for them to now let it go that in itself shows what the problem is. And of course their stance is the efforts are anti-cop, Pro drug dealer, pro-terrorist.
I personally think there a lot of good hard-working men and women working in the law enforcement community, and these type of the abuses are rare but give them all a black eye and they need to step up and be part of the solution and not part of the problem.