Responding to a tip from the DEA, the Iowa City Police Department (ICPD) stops family’s car with a K-9 unit. K-9 (of course) alerts to vehicle. Officers don’t find any drugs. Officers, however, find family has $48,000 in cash. Officers take the money. Family claims money was intended to buy property from relatives. Family claims that the sale didn’t go through. Family says they were driving home with the money when ICPD pulled their vehicle over. Family demands the return of their money. ICPD says they gave the money to federal authorities. Family sues in Iowa court for return of the money. County Attorney argues local courts lack jurisdiction over the matter because the money was given to federal authorities. ICPD and County Attorney claim federal authorities thinking about forfeiting the money. Called to provide witnesses on the seizure and transfer, ICPD sends (apparently) uninformed sergeant as witness. Sergeant speculates on the case:
“Iowa City Sgt. David Droll, who took the stand as a state witness during the hearing, said that although he did not conduct the initial traffic stop, it was his understanding that a DEA official contacted the Iowa City Police Department on March 16 and informed them that the vehicle being driven by Overton was to be stopped as part of an ongoing narcotics investigation.
“My take on this was that it came from the DEA. They made the phone call to one of our officers that got the ball rolling,” Droll said. “I believe there is an ongoing drug investigation, but it’s not being done by the Iowa City Police Department.”
Little additional information was made available during the hearing about the DEA investigation and none of the three Iowa City officers who conducted the traffic stop or searched the vehicle attended the hearing.” Mitchell Schmidt, Sides Debate Legality of Police Seizing Couple’s $48K, Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 13, 2014.
Thus far, neither federal or local authorities have raised charges against the money or the family. The family is, however, without its money. Further, the family faces fighting two costly legal battles, in federal and local courts.
Mitchell Schmidt, reporting for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, quotes the presiding district court judge as saying that he is profoundly troubled by the situation.
As for the ICPD, they stand to receive up to 80% of the proceeds of the seizure if the money is ultimately forfeited by federal authorities. Insidiously, under federal guidelines, the ICPD is free to spend the windfall on overtime salaries for the very officers who seized the cash on a DEA tip.