Cops Can Take Your Cash Even If You Did Nothing Wrong
John Newmerzhycky was travelling down Interstate 80 in Iowa with his pal Bart Davis when an Iowa State Trooper pulled them over.
INSIDE EDITION’s Lisa Guerrero asked Newmerzhycky, “Were you obeying all the traffic laws, were you doing the speed limit?”
He replied, “I had the cruise control set. I wasn't doing anything wrong.” He was pulled over anyway.
The entire stop was recorded on the trooper’s dash cam video. The officer could be heard saying, “If y'all step out here, I’ll write you a warning real quick and get you out of here.”
The officer seemed friendly enough, and gave Newmerzhycky a written warning for failing to signal when changing lanes.
Newmerzhycky thought he would be on his way, but just as he was heading back in his vehicle the officer can be heard asking, “Can I search your car?”
“I don't see any reason to, no,” Newmerzhycky replied.
The officer asked, “Can I run a K-9 through the car?”
Newmerzhycky answered, “I'd prefer to be on my way. Do I have a right to say no?”
“You do,” the officer responded.
Newmerzhycky was detained anyway because the officer said he appeared nervous.
After the incident, Guerrero asked Newmerzhycky, “Did you feel intimidated?”
“Yes, I didn't feel it was any of his business what we had in this car. I didn't do anything wrong,” he replied.
A drug sniffing dog was brought in and supposedly signaled an alert for drugs. No drugs were found, however, $100,000 in bills wrapped in plastic, were located in the trunk.
Why all those wads of cash? Turns out, Newmerzhycky’s pal Bart Davis is a professional gambler. He explained they were on their way to a casino in in Las Vegas to play poker.
In the dash cam video, the officer told the guys, “Here's the deal, we haven't found anything illegal, so you guys are not arrested.”
Good news, right? Not so fast! The troopers confiscated all the money because they claimed it was connected to illegal activity.
Bart Davis told Guerrero, “They robbed us. Highway robbery is what happened to us.”
What happened to the poker players was not unique. Billions of dollars have been confiscated from motorists on America’s interstates. Often they're not even charged with a crime. It's called civil confiscation, and as long police say they believe the money is connected to illegal activity, they are allowed to take it, and then you have to fight to try to get it back.
The situation has even caught the attention of HBO’s John Oliver.
On a recent episode of Last Week Tonight, Oliver said, “Public trust in the police is the most vital element of a civilized society, but that public trust has been undermined by a procedure called civil forfeiture. Police have taken 2.5 billion dollars in the course of 61,000 seizures from people who were not charged with a crime.”
Attorney Glen Downey of Des Moines, Iowa, fights for motorists who have had their money confiscated, including those poker players. He said the players were targeted, in part because they were driving through Iowa with out of state plates from California. He claims the stop was improper because the trooper’s dash cam video showed that Newmerzhycky in fact used his signal when he changed lanes.
“Now, everybody has to think twice about driving on American highways with cash in their car. These things happen every day in Iowa and in states across the country,” he told INSIDE EDITION.
The poker players were able to eventually get 90% of their cash back in a settlement, but are still out tens of thousands in legal fees. Newmerzhycky paid a $65 fine for possessing marijuana paraphernalia which he uses for medicinal purposes in California, for which he has a permit.