Here’s how the institutionalized theft called “civil asset forfeiture” works in Washington, D.C.: If the police steal your car, you may eventually get it back — if you’re willing to pay ransom for the privilege of letting a judge decide if the thieves get to keep it permanently.
TheNewspaper.com reports that D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Jeremy Bank stopped Virginia resident Frederick Simms on May 29, 2011 for supposedly making an illegal right turn on Martin Luther King Avenue. (A microscopic street sign advised the such turns are prohibited between 7 a.m. and 7 PM.) In keeping with the standard script, Banks lied by claiming that he smelled the aroma of marijuana. A search of the car revealed a handgun. Simms was arrested and his car impounded.
With the help of a public defender, the 22-year-old Simms was acquitted of all charges last December 7. However, the D.C. municipal government — which has one of the most flexible and abusive “civil asset forfeiture” statues in the American soyuz — retained possession of the 2007 Saturn Aura XE in the hope of permanently confiscating it through a forfeiture action.
Following his acquittal, Simms was told that he would have to pay a $1,200 fee in order to file a court challenge against the seizure of his automobile. Spokesmen for the criminal clique that had stolen his car didn’t bother to tell Simms that he could apply for a reduction or waiver of the “bond.” After learning that this was possible, Simms attempted to apply for a waiver, and was told that he would have to get the application notarized and provide three years of tax returns. After doing so, Simms was informed that his waiver was denied, and the bond — essentially, a ransom demand for an amount he would lose if the thieves ratified their theft of his car — would be reduced to $800.
“I cannot afford to pay $800 to try to get my car back,” Simms explained in a court filing. “All of the money I make from my wages…goes to transportation, rent, daycare, utilities, groceries, car insurance, and the $360 a month I pay on the car loan…”
On May 1, Simms filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against the District, which responded by beginning forfeiture proceedings the following month — more than a year after the initial traffic stop. In a preliminary hearing, one of the lawyers representing the D.C. criminal clique observed that the forfeiture proceeding (that is, the process of ratifying the theft) might take about a year. This would mean Simms would be deprived of the use of a car on which he was still making loan and insurance payments. In the meantime, sniffed the mob lawyer, Simms would just have to make use of “public” transportation.
Federal District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ruled that it was an “irreparable harm” for the district to keep Simms’s car. However, he required that the innocent motorist pay a $1,000 forfeiture bond — that is, a ransom to get back the car the police had stolen from him until a judge decides whether the thieves can keep it.
(Cross-posted from here.)