Outsourced Oklahoma 'counterfeit cops' suspected of illegal property seizures
In a letter sent to Caddo County District Attorney Jason Hicks, the ACLU is asking him to request the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation begin an inquiry into the conduct of his own office.
Hicks hired Desert Snow LLC, a private company, in January 2013 to mentor Caddo County’s drug task force for one year. According to The Oklahoman he agreed to finance the program by paying Desert Snow with 25 per cent of fees from tickets handed out with the involvement of the trainers. The company would also be paid 10 per cent of profits collected when company trainers were not present.
Desert Storm reportedly seized more than $40,000 between January and July 2, when a judge came forward to suspend Hicks’s program.
In court, Desert Snow founder Joe David testified that he pulled over a driver despite not having a state license allowing him to do so. David said he had a gun and may have been wearing a shirt that read “POLICE” in large lettering across his shoulder blades. He questioned the driver, a pregnant woman, by himself before her case was later dismissed.
Civil asset forfeiture laws allow police departments to keep the profits seized in drug raids. While specific state laws vary, Oklahoma law enforcement agencies are permitted to hold onto 100 per cent of the profits they take from drug offenders. Then, if an owner wants to reclaim their property under the current law, the onus is on them to prove they did not know the property was being used in connection with an illegal activity.
Desert Storm also received $212,000 alone from a single arrest seizure in May.
“For people to pull over people on I-40 without that license is shocking to me,” Caddo County Special Judge David Stephens said earlier this month.
Hicks said he would look into to task force’s conduct but stressed that the finance methods are necessary for Caddo County, which is located to the immediate west of the Greater Oklahoma City region and had a population of 29,600 people in 2010.
“Yes, it’s unusual, but what we’re doing here is trying to finance law enforcement on the backs of criminals,” Hicks previously told The Oklahoman. “At the end of the day, the money that we’ve taken here has been money that we’ve taken away from drug traffickers. This is money that we have taken away from the cartels and are putting it to good use…and I think that’s a good thing.”
Oklahoma’s ACLU legal director Brady Henderson criticized Hicks for hiring Desert Snow, asserting that the employees failed to meet the minimum 600 hours of training.
“Your whims do not trump the duly-enacted laws of the State of Oklahoma, and neither you nor the counterfeit cops are above the law,” he wrote, adding that criminal charges are possible in multiple instances where Oklahomans claim their property was confiscated when no criminal charges had been filed.
“In several of these cases, law abiding citizens allege that they were made to sign disclaimers of ownership through coercion, having been falsely threatened with jail and criminal charges if they resisted officers’ attempt to take their money,” Henderson wrote.