Will cops get away with taking $225,000 in cash and coins?

By WND Staff

(Image courtesy Pixabay)

Police officers can’t seize $225,000 in cash and coins from private individuals without cause, contends a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Institute for Justice friend-of-the-court brief addresses a case in which police officers in Fresno, California, seven years ago executed search warrants on the homes and business of Micah Jessop and Brittan Ashjian.

The two ran a company that serviced ATMs and routinely worked with a stockpile of cash.

The officers were checking a report of illegal gambling in which neither man ever was charged with a crime. But police confiscated nearly $275,000 in rare coins the men owned and cash they used to restock their ATMs.

“When the investigation was over, police said they’d seized only approximately $50,00 in cash; they kept the remaining cash and the coins for themselves,” IJ said.

The men sued, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals eventually upheld the “taking” because the lower court never had ruled specifically “that it is unconstitutional for the police to steal from someone.”

“No one should be above the law, least of all those who are supposed to be enforcing it,” said attorney Patrick Jaicomo. “And yet, according to the federal courts, police officers who steal money from people cannot be held accountable because the courts have never ruled that it is unconstitutional for the police to steal from someone. No one really believes that theft is a reasonable seizure permitted by the Constitution. The Ninth Circuit’s decision shows how absurd qualified immunity has become.”

The courts found the officers had “qualified immunity,” which dates back to the 1980s when the Supreme Court “announced a rule that government officials would be liable only if their specific actions had already been held unconstitutional in an earlier court case.”

It means that if no other officers had been found liable for taking money from a citizen, another officer in a new case could not.

“The court’s decision was a drastic departure from the historical standards of government accountability,” the lawyers explained. “At the founding and throughout the nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries, courts simply decided whether a government official’s actions were unlawful and, if they were, ordered a remedy.”

“It’s time for the Supreme Court to end the failed experiment of qualified immunity,” said attorney Anya Bidwell. “The fundamental purpose of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights is to protect Americans from government abuses. But thanks to qualified immunity, police can literally come into your home and steal from you, and the courts will shield them from liability.”

The court filing states: “The doctrine’s development over the past several decades has proven qualified immunity to be a license to lawless conduct. As exemplified by the Ninth Circuit’s decision below – sparing police officers who stole $225,000 from any liability – qualified immunity routinely shields both the plainly incompetent and those who knowingly violate the Constitution.”

The organization said the precedent has been so perverted that in just the last year, immunity was granted to an officer who shot a 10-year-old child who was lying on the ground.

In other cases, officials put a prisoner in an “extremely cold” cell without a toilet, water or a bed for six days; officers killed a mentally ill man who was turning to run away; an officer picked up a mentally infirm man and dropped him off on a highway at the county line where he was struck and killed; an officer bodyslammed a “non-threatening woman” as she walked away.

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