FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 24, 2018
CONTACT: Lindsay Kee, 615-320-7142
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee has secured the return of a vehicle seized without cause from a disabled veteran by Mount Juliet police last September.
“When I served in the military, I took an oath to defend our Constitution,” said property owner and Vietnam veteran Lewis Cain. “I have the utmost respect for law enforcement, but the Fourth Amendment has to mean something. I hope that now the police learn that they can’t just take people’s property for no reason.”
On September 18, 2017, officers from the Mount Juliet Police Department arrived at disabled veteran Lewis Cain’s home with an arrest warrant for his son. The officers entered Cain’s home, woke him up by shining a flashlight in his eyes and asked for the keys, despite the fact that they knew the car belonged to Mr. Cain and not his son. Confused but wishing to cooperate, Cain handed over the keys and officers opened his garage door and drove away in his 2009 BMW. When he objected, police told him that they were allowed to do so.
The police had no warrant to seize the car and Cain had not been accused of any crime. At no point did the police produce a search or forfeiture warrant authorizing them to enter the home and seize the car.
The seizure was part of a practice known as civil asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement agencies to seize an individual’s cash and property simply by asserting – without proof – that they believe the property is connected to illegal activity. Oftentimes officers seize property without ever pursuing criminal charges against the property owner. The practice nets law enforcement agencies in Tennessee millions of dollars every year.
ACLU-TN filed a complaint with the Department of Safety, arguing that the seizure without a warrant violated Cain’s Fourth Amendment rights and that the officers had purposefully misrepresented Cain’s son as the owner of the car in police reports, despite evidence that this was not the case.
The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security agreed to voluntarily dismiss the case and return the vehicle to Cain.
“We are pleased that Mr. Cain has his car back, but it should never have been taken from him in the first place,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director. “Unfortunately this is just another example of Tennessee’s overly broad asset forfeiture laws at work – the current system incentivizes policing-for-profit and invites abuse. Asset forfeiture should be used to target actual criminals, not innocent people.”