In today’s ‘life is not that fair’ story, a West Virginia State Police trooper issued Dimitrios Patlias a warning for failing to drive within his lane. Not only did the trooper give him a warning, but seized more than $10,000 in cash from him and his wife Tonya Smith!
On June 9, Tonya Smith, who was almost eight months pregnant at that time, and Patlias were headed to the Hollywood Casino in Jefferson County. The couple had capitalized on several promotion offers, and had 14 $100 gift cards on them, along with the $10,000 in cash. The trooper has allegedly pulled him over and ranged from accusing them of smuggling cigarettes, gift card fraud, and having drugs in the car. After searching the vehicle, the couple, and Smith’s purse, the trooper let them go with a uniform warning citation.
Yet, here comes the good part. The trooper let the couple go but took the $10,478 in cash, Patlias smartphone, and the gift cards, according to a property disposition reports. Smith said half of the cards were indeed gift cards, and the rest were rewarded programs card you get from any chain business. Both Patlias and Smith wounded up returning to their home in Egg Harbor City, New Jersey, with nothing but $2 cash, and without ever having been charged with a crime.
Smith, who is a nurse, stated it was “disgusting” the way they were treated, after working hard for their money. The seizure was part of a practice known as Civil Asset Forfeiture. Meaning, a law enforcement officer does have the right to lay claim to the property, cash, cars, and homes suspected of being involved in criminal activity. Unlike criminal forfeiture, with civil forfeiture, the property owner doesn’t have to be charged with or convicted of a crime to permanently lose their possessions. Under the West Virginia Contraband Forfeiture Act, once an item or property is seized by an officer, authorities can file a motion in civil court, separate from criminal proceedings, to claim all the property via forfeiture.
If the case goes to civil court, and a prosecutor initiates a forfeiture proceeding, the person whose property was seized will most likely need legal help to file any motion in response to reclaim their property. Meaning, the cost of a lawyer will probably outweigh the value of the goods seized. Upon 30 days in inaction after the prosecutor’s motion, the property is forfeited to the state by default. Even is the “suspects” are acquitted of any charges filed against them, they would still need to go through any civil produce to reclaim the property.
According to the Gazette-Mail, reporters reached out to the State police with inquiries about the seizure, and after weeks of Smith calling the police for his belonging, the Jefferson County attorney and local politicians, Smith stated an officer returned their positions in full. A complaint has been filed by the couple, and there is an active investigation involving the department. Jefferson County Prosecutor, Matt Harvey, noted that state police notified his office informally of the seizure, and he and his staff declined to make effort toward forfeiture. What a day to be alive, folks.