Trump threatens Texas legislator for proposing civil forfeiture reform

President Trump elicited laughs Tueday from a group of sheriffs by offering to “destroy the career” of a Texas state senator who introduced a bill to reform civil asset forfeiture. Trump later claimed he was only joking. Read story here and watch video below.

The senator, Konni Burton, a Tea Party Republican, won the seat formerly held by Democrat Wendy Davis, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2014. Davis became famous in 2013 for filibustering an anti-abortion bill.

Forfeiture laws, originally intended to target organized crime and drug cartels, have become highly controversial due to their abusive use by some law enforcement agencies that have targeted innocent citizens in order to fund their departments. The general practice has been to allow police agencies to keep what they seize, or a substantial part of it, and usually a conviction or even criminal charges are not required.

This has resulted in unscrupulous police agencies waylaying travelers passing through their towns and shaking them down for cash and valuables on the pretext they were transporting drugs. In these shakedown operations, the drugs may be planted by the cops or simply not exist. Typically, victims are forced to sign over their money and valuables, and then are released, or threatened with long prison sentences if they don’t cooperate. The stings often target minorities.

Obama’s Justice Department stopped sharing proceeds of federal asset forfeitures with local police in an effort to clean up the problem, but that hasn’t been enough, and many states are now moving to reform their laws.  Typically, this includes requiring a conviction, and requiring police agencies to turn over forfeiture proceeds to the state so they won’t have a financial incentive to seize assets.

Civil forfeiture is big business in Texas, where police seized half a billion dollars between 2005-2015. Some of the worst abuses have occurred in Texas, especially in towns bordering Louisiana, where corrupt cops made a practice of intercepting highway travelers arriving from out of state on traffic violations pretexts.

President Trump apparently is oblivious to civil forfeiture’s checkered history and ignorant about reform efforts.

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