8 News NOW I-Team

I-Team: Body cam video shows deputies seizing $167K, judge orders money to be returned to driver

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A federal judge in Nevada has ordered the government to give back $167,000 seized by police during a traffic stop on Interstate 80 near Elko.  The 8 News NOW I-Team has been following the hotly-debated issue of civil forfeiture for a while now and has obtained body camera video of the stop.

This is the first time the video has been made public.

Judge Larry Hicks’ ruling has turned out to be a huge victory for the driver.  The $167,000 in cash was confiscated from his motor home in January 2013 as he drove through the state of Nevada to California.

The entire incident was captured by body camera worn by an Elko County Sheriff’s deputy.

“Six, seven, eight, nine. There’s 90 bundles here. There’s potentially 100 grand here,” the deputy was heard saying on the video.  “Your computer will be seized, as evidence, your cell phone will be seized as evidence, your camera will be seized as evidence. All that money that is in there will be seized.”

It was a drug dog that alerted authorities to the exterior of the motorhome.  However, no drugs were ever found and the driver was never charged with anything.

During his ruling last week, Judge Hicks said the driver’s rights were violated during the traffic stop.

“The federal court found that these detentions were unconstitutionally prolongated because they were conducted in the absence of any objective, reasonable suspicion that he was committing any kind of offense,” said Vincent Savarese, the motorist’s attorney.

In ordering police to return the cash, the judge noted the motorist was stopped by the Nevada Highway Patrol less than an hour earlier, and when the trooper couldn’t find a reason to search the vehicle — the trooper called down the road to Elko deputies.  Judge Hicks said the trooper asked Elko deputies to watch for the motorhome and have a drug dog standing by.
 
The judge ruled the double-detention — without additional evidence of a crime — violated the driver’s rights.  The judge also took a shot at federal prosecutors for not telling the court about the earlier stop by NHP saying, “The government has a duty of candor and fair disclosure to the court, and that did not occur here.”

Federal prosecutors have indicated they will appeal the judge’s ruling.
The 8 News NOW I-Team will have a special report Thursday night at 11 p.m. on the battle over civil forfeiture.

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