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.