If an armed person stops a motorist in one of the Nation’s most deserted areas and demands that person hand over the large sum of cash he’s carrying, doesn’t that make the armed person a brigand?
Nevada’s asset forfeiture laws deputize brigands – or, rather, they make brigands of deputies. The wrinkle is that it’s the State, and not the guy with the gun, that keeps the money…If, that is, the brigand is honest about how much money he’s confiscated.
New police video footage released to KLAS-TV in Las Vegas, Nev. on Tuesday has renewed scrutiny of State asset forfeiture laws, while especially sharpening the public perception of one Humboldt County deputy who seems to have State-sanctioned highway robbery down to a science.
First, it’s helpful to remember a couple of points about the setting. Humboldt County, which forms part of the State’s northern border with Oregon, has a population density of roughly two people per square mile. It’s desolate mountain desert country, but a sliver of one of America’s great coast-to-coast highways – Interstate 80 – runs through Humboldt County’s southeastern corner. I-80 takes people to and from Reno, a town where people can legally win and lose money at gambling, and it delivers many people who’ve packed their valuables and their budding ambitions from the Nation’s eastern half to the populated West Coast – the mythic land of the American dream.
It stands to reason that people, for one legal reason or another, often carry cash when they drive I-80 through Nevada. And, as highway robbers throughout history have well understood, it also stands to reason that it’s easiest to shake down travelers in the remotest location possible. Humboldt County has both those boxes checked.
So it’s against that fertile backdrop for roadside shakedowns that officers like deputy Lee Dove, under the aegis of zealous drug enforcement, stop motorists and ask them a series of leading questions that, if answered incorrectly, will lead to drivers saying goodbye forever to their cash.
Here’s how KLAS investigative reporter Glen Meek describes one unnamed motorist’s encounter with deputy Dove:
One deputy in particular is being singled out for his practice of pressuring travelers to abandon their money or face losing their cars as well. The I-Team has obtained exclusive dash-cam video from one of these drug interdiction stops. While no drugs were found, that didn’t stop the deputy from grabbing the cash.
“How much money you got?” Humboldt County Deputy Lee Dove can be heard asking on the video.
Dove can be seen dropping cash on the hood of the car.
Deputy Dove: “That’s not yours, is it?”
Motorist: “That’s mine.”
Deputy Dove: “Well, I’m seizing it.”
… The out-of-state motorist was stopped for doing 78 mph in an 75 mph zone. Deputy Dove finds $50,000 cash and $10,000 in cashiers checks during a search of the car.
The first issue is whether Dove obtained permission to search the car or whether he simply told the driver, Tan Nguyen, he was going to do it.
Deputy Dove: “Well, I’m gonna search that vehicle first, ok?”
Nguyen: “Hey, what’s the reason you’re searching my car?”
Deputy Dove: “Because I’m talking to you … well, no, I don’t have to explain that to you. I’m not going to explain that to you, but I am gonna put my drug dog on that (pointing to money). If my dog alerts, I’m seizing the money. You can try to get it back but you’re not.”
Nguyen: (inaudible) got it in Vegas.”
Deputy Dove: “Good luck proving it. Good luck proving it. You’ll burn it up in attorney fees before we give it back to you.”
But Dove never seizes the money under state forfeiture law, instead he offers Nguyen a deal. Abandon the cash and you can leave with the cashiers checks. Otherwise, Dove will confiscate the cash anyway and tow the car because Nguyen’s name isn’t on the rental agreement.
Deputy Dove: “It’s your call. If you want to walk away, you can take the cashiers checks, the car and everything and you can bolt and you’re on your way. But you’re gonna be walking away from this money and abandoning it.
Fifty-thousand dollars gone. Nevada’s asset forfeiture laws basically sanction law enforcement to follow the ABCs any sustenance robber should live by (Always Be Confiscating), since revenue generated from seizures and the sale of forfeited assets must be spent within one year.
For now, all this is perfectly legal in Nevada, as well as other States. What’s interesting is that this isn’t the first time Dove has come under public scrutiny for his excellence in confiscation. Here’s a fascinating account, posted by The Heritage Foundation in early April, of another of deputy Dove’s successful exploits.
*Edit to correct an error in the original story: Humboldt County, Nev. forms part of the State’s northern border with Oregon, not Montana (that’s two whole States away.) Thanks to our commenters, who noticed and pointed out the error.