Morning Headlines: Egregious Case of Philly’s Civil Forfeiture Process
Some time ago, Isaiah Thompson did an extensive story on the city’s controversial civil asset forfeiture process, which grants law enforcement officials the power to seize a person’s home and assets (i.e. money, car, other real estate) if suspected of criminal activity.
The keyword there is suspected because regardless of whether they’ve actually had a prior charge or conviction, their property can still be confiscated.
This system has resulted in devastating situations for many families and individuals. Complicating matters even further, some civil asset forfeiture cases have been handled by corrupt officers, as was that of Kevin Floyd who, Thompson now reports, was forced out of his home with his family by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office on the grounds that he was suspected of drug possession with intent to deliver. (The case dated back to 2010 and Floyd had not even had his day in court yet.)
Then, his charges were dropped. From the City Paper:
Less than three months later, on Jan. 14, 2013, the D.A. declined to prosecute those charges, and similarly reversed its decisions on hundreds more charges brought by the same police officers who had charged Floyd. The reason became clear this July, when six officers, including the four who arrested Floyd, were themselves arrested and charged with running a drug-ridden “racketeering” operation from right inside the police force, one of the biggest scandals to hit the department in decades.
Floyd never got an apology from the D.A.’s office, which, by the way, keeps the assets after seizure and “sell[s] seized houses at auction.” Thompson adds that the revenue from this goes into a fund the D.A’s office controls, with a portion going to the Philadelphia Police Department. According to the latest report, that fund currently has a balance of $9.5 million, an amount some might call shady, especially given how it was acquired:
“The indicted officers are certainly bad apples [but] the problem is one of bad laws,” says Institute for Justice attorney Darpana Sheth, who is helping to head up the class-action lawsuit against the D.A.’s forfeiture program. Cases like Floyd’s, she says, are “the inevitable result of the perverse profit incentive” created by civil forfeiture.
Scott Kelly, an attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania working on forfeitures issues, agrees. “When law enforcement can forfeit people’s property without a conviction and then keep it for their own budgets, it leads to unjust outcomes,” he says.
The City of Philadelphia, D.A.’s Office and Philly Police Department were all hit with a class action lawsuit this past summer from plaintiffs claiming unfair civil forfeiture that they say violated their constitutional rights.
District Attorney Seth Williams responded in defense of the process, saying it helps shut down drug properties, which in turn helps improve neighborhoods.
In other news…
• Digital display legislation to go before City Council [Philadelphia Business Journal]
• Lower Southampton approves townhouse development [Courier Times]
• Cherry Hill looks at troubled properties [Inquirer]
• Purchase of Atlantic City casino would allow the expansion Stockton College needs [Philadelphia Business Journal]