Police in small town Tenaha, Texas, near the Louisiana line, have found a way of turning law enforcement into a lucrative racket. According to a recently filed federal lawsuit, police there routinely stopped passing motorists — the vast majority of them black — and threatened them with felony arrests on charges such as money laundering unless they agreed to sign over their property on the spot.
More than 140 people accepted that Hobson’s choice between June 2006 and June 2008, according to court records cited by the Chicago Tribune, which ran a lengthy article on the practice this week. Among them was a black grandmother who handed over $4,000 in cash and an interracial couple from Houston who handed over $6,000 in cash after police threatened to arrest them and send their children to foster care. Neither the couple nor the grandmother were charged with any crime. The waiver form that the couple signed giving up their rights is particularly chilling. “We agree that this case may be taken up and considered by the Court without further notice to us during this proceeding. In exchange for this agreement, no criminal charges shall be filed on either of us as a result of this case, and our children shall not be turned over to CPS.”
Officials in Tenaha, which sits on a heavily traveled highway between Houston and popular gambling destinations in Louisiana, said they were fighting drug trafficking and were operating in accord with state asset forfeiture law, which allows local police agencies to keep drug money and other goods used in the commission of a crime.
“We try to enforce the law here,” said George Bowers, mayor of the town of 1,046 residents, where boarded-up businesses outnumber open ones and City Hall sports a broken window. “We’re not doing this to raise money. That’s all I’m going to say at this point,” he told the Tribune.