Small town Texas police accused of fleecing motorists

The old saying, don't mess with Texas, is especially fitting if you happen to find yourself traveling through Tenaha, where local police are accused of stealing from Hispanic and African American motorists. Victims assert that police in this town of 1,000 have used trumped up charges and other threats to compel them to sign over large sums of money and personal property. One estimate places the number of incidents near 150, with close to $3 million taken in the last three years.
The actions taken by law enforcement are not just improper, they are downright disgusting. In more than one case an officer threatened to turn a couple's children over to protective services if they didn't surrender up to $50,000 in cash. One officer went so far as to try on a victim's jewelry in front of him, asking how it looked. While several of the involved parties have recovered their money and property after filing a lawsuit. at least one individual is still out the $8,500 that officers took from him.

The practice takes advantage of a Texas law allowing law enforcement to confiscate money and personal property if they believe it was used in the commission of a crime. Despite the requirement that property be returned if no charges are filed, this is a rare occurrence in Tenaha. CNN reports that the town spent the money on many things including; department expenses, donations to a local church and a $10,000 check issued to one of the involved officers.

This type of behavior isn't limited to a small town in Texas.

A case in Indiana sounds more fitting for an episode of The Shield than a crime in the Hoosier state. The Delaware County prosecutor was ordered late last year to refund legal fees after it was discovered that he had formed confidential agreements with a drug task force to get legal fees and 25% of seized assets, avoiding the mess of a trial. UPDATE: The Delaware prosecutor has been cleared of any wrongdoing in these cases.

It's not surprising that this power is abused by certain individuals and entities; mixing the ability to confiscate property with the potential for personal gain is asking for trouble. The corruption hasn't gone unnoticed, at least not in Texas, where the state is currently trying to stop the use of the methods used to extract money and jewelry from individuals in Tenaha.

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