"Asset forfeiture" is a legal term meaning "when police take all the valuable shit in your car and keep because you may or may not have been exceeding the speed limit." These programs are at last coming under a wee bit of scrutiny.
A great primer on this issue is Sarah Stillman's 2013 New Yorker article describing the Kafkaesque horrors endured by innocent victims of asset seizures by police who essentially use trumped-up pretenses to rob the public blind and buy more shiny SUVs, for the police. These forfeiture programs are in place nationwide, but any taste of reform is a step in the right direction. Today, the Wall Street Journal reports that the district attorney in Humboldt County, Nevada has opened a review of possible "procedural issues" with multiple asset forfeitures by officers there (though "the district attorney also said sheriff's officers had done nothing wrong and that the money was lawfully seized"). What kind of "procedural issues" are we talking about here? For example, the case of Tan Nguyen and the cash he won in a casino:
Humboldt County agreed Friday to give back to motorist Tan Nguyen $50,000 that was confiscated in September, according to Stephen Balkenbush, an attorney representing the county. Mr. Nguyen's federal lawsuit, now settled, alleged a deputy sheriff seized the money after he was pulled over for driving 3 miles an hour over the speed limit on a highway and that he didn't consent to a search.
In a lawsuit, Nguyen says that "[Deputy Lee] Dove [pictured -ed.] threatened to have Plaintiff's car seized and towed, leaving Plaintiff afoot, unless Plaintiff 'got in his car and drove off and forgot this ever happened.'"
Or the case of Ken Smith, stopped for speeding last December:
Dove detained Smith on a warrant for another man named Smith, even though Dove had information showing the wanted Smith was black and had a different birth date, the lawsuit said. Ken Smith is white.
Smith eventually was allowed to leave and signed the waiver surrendering $13,800 and his pistol.
[Photo of Tan Nguyen's money: AP]