NEW YORK - The American Civil Liberties Union today settled a class-action lawsuit filed against police in an East Texas city who took cash from Black and Latino motorists during traffic stops by threatening them with baseless criminal charges, according to ACLU officials.
It is estimated that police fromTenaha and Shelby County seized $3 million in at least 140 cases between 2006 and 2008 after asking Black and Latino drivers if they were carrying cash, according to the ACLU.
If they were, ACLU officials claimed that the drivers were ordered to sign over the cash to the city or face charges of money laundering or other serious crimes, say ACLU officials.
Almost all of the stops involved Black and Latino drivers, according to the ACLU.
None of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed by the ACLU in 2008 were arrested or charged with a crime.
In one incident, the ACLU stated that a Black man and his partner, a white woman, were detained during a 2007 traffic stop. The officer threatened to charge the couple with money laundering and to put their children who were traveling with them, in foster care, if they refused to sign papers agreeing to forfeit the $6,000 they had, ACLU officials stated.
"This was a brazen case of highway robbery, plain and simple," Elora Mukherjee, a staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program stated in a press release. "Law enforcement needs to focus on protecting communities they serve, not policing for profit."
Under the consent decree filed in U.S. District Court in Marshall, Texas, police will be required to follow rigorous rules that govern traffic stops in Tenaha and Shelby County. All stops will be videotaped, the officer must state the reason for the stop and basis for suspecting criminal activity, according to the ACLU.
In addition, officers can no longer use dogs in conducting traffic stops. No property may be seized during a search unless the officer first gives the driver a reason for why it should be taken. All property improperly taken must be returned within 30 business days.
Also any asset forfeiture revenue seized during a traffic stop must be donated to non-profit organizations or used for the audio or training required by the settlement, ACLU officials state.
In Texas, the law allows for the confiscation of personal property that police believe is connected to the commission of a crime.