Every time I think I’ve read the most egregious civil asset forfeiture story ever, some government agency just has to one-up it.
This new case comes from California, where medical marijuana is legal, and both Congress and a federal judge have ordered the feds to leave legal distributors alone. But the Drug Enforcement Administration is actively ignoring those directions from two out of three branches of government — because hey, who cares about rule of law when there’s money to take from innocent people?!
The Institute for Justice’s Nick Sibilla reports at Forbes:
As the morning dawned on January 28, 2016, 30 DEA agents and San Diego police officers stormed Med-West Distribution, a legal medical marijuana business that specialized in refining cannabis oil for vaporizer pen cartridges. Kitted out in tactical vests and helmets, heavily armed officers smashed open the doors with sledgehammers. Once inside, officers pointed guns at the two employees on site, handcuffed them, and scoured the premises for valuable inventory and equipment. Discovering a safe, law enforcement cracked it open and found roughly $325,000 in cash stored inside. The owner of Med-West, James Slatic, even said police high-fived each other when the raid ended.
That was just the beginning of the Slatic family’s nightmare.
After storming their store, the San Diego Police stole — er, seized more than $100,000 from the Slatics, including money unconnected to their business operations. “James lost $55,000; his wife, who works as a V.A. hospital technician, lost $34,000,” Sibilla writes. “Even their two teenage daughters did not go unscathed: Police seized their entire college savings, a combined $11,260.”
College is recent enough in my memory that this last bit irks me the most, though it’s the smallest dollar amount. I can imagine how angry and scared I would have been at that age if the government had taken my hard-earned tuition savings.
Still, it gets worse:
Neither James, his wife nor their two daughters have been charged with any crime. Nor have any of Med-West’s employees been indicted in connection to the raid (the employees who were arrested were ultimately released without any charges). Yet San Diego law enforcement has refused to return the cash it seized. Today, more than nine months after the raid, prosecutors still haven’t even brought a civil forfeiture case against the Slatics’ personal bank accounts.
Unable to access its own accounts, Med-West has gone under, throwing 35 people out of work. Meanwhile, the Slatic family worries about how they can pay their bills and put their two daughters through college. The loss of funds has also “devastated” James’ ability to support his 86-year-old mother.
It’s the lack of charges that make the government’s motives here (as in almost any civil asset forfeiture case) so transparent: The DEA and the San Diego PD both know this family is innocent. They know they’re never going to get a conviction, especially with a jury of Californians.
But they don’t care about that. What they care about is taking $100,000.
The good news is the Institute for Justice has taken the Slatics’ case, so there’s a real chance they’ll see their personal funds returned.
Better news would be the end of civil asset forfeiture entirely.