On March 24, 2016, 23-year old Salvador Franco and his girlfriend were confronted by a state trooper while stopped at a westbound rest area on I-70 in Kansas. What followed was a nightmare travesty of justice. Their individual freedom and civil liberties were clearly violated,” says Franco’s attorney, David B. Smith, of Alexandria Virginia. Under our current civil forfeiture laws, police and law enforcement agencies can take personal property with no trial, little due process, and sometimes, no notice. In this case, Franco was lucky because the DKT Liberty Project heard about his case and is paying his legal fees to try and get his money back.
When Salvador Franco, an American citizen, took a road trip with his girlfriend, Liliana Ramirez, to buy a used truck for cash in St. Louis. They did not end up buying the truck, but when they stopped in Kansas on the way back to their home in Nevada to use the bathroom, they were harassed by a highway patrol officer without justification. The officer told Franco he did not have the proper front license plates as required by Kansas law, which was a lie. He demanded permission to search Franco’s car even though he had no warrant and no probable cause, and Franco refused. He and his girlfriend were unlawfully detained. A drug sniffing dog was brought to the scene by another officer. The dog alerted to the presence of drugs after an officer signaled to it. The officers then proceeded to trash the car, eventually finding $31,200 in cash which was meant to purchase the truck in St. Louis; however, no evidence of drugs was ever found. Nonetheless, Mr. Franco and his girlfriend were immediately placed in handcuffs and taken to the police station. The couple was interviewed separately and questioned for two hours.
“They told my girlfriend that if she didn’t give them the passcode to her phone, they were going to lock me up for 10 years and that she was going to face up to 5 years. She started crying and gave them her passcode. They then had us sign forfeiture papers and we were asked to leave,” says Franco. “I was never charged with a crime, never cited for any traffic violations, and they never found any drugs in my car.”
“This case shows an outrageous and unconstitutional course of conduct by the trooper, the dog handler, and the drug enforcement agency,” said attorney David B. Smith. “The dog’s supposed ‘alert’ was a complete sham, and the complaint for forfeiture did not cite evidence to show probable cause for the seizure,” adds Smith. “When Franco asked to consult with an attorney at the station house, the police did not respect his 5th and 6th amendment rights and resumed questioning him without representation.”
These ugly confrontations occur because police are incentivized to seize money through the US Department of Justice’s heavily criticized Equitable Sharing Program. As with Franco’s case, state law enforcement can easily “federalize” a seizure case: seized funds are sent to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency which then keeps 20% and sends 80% of the forfeited property back to the state or local police. Even if state law says that seized money should go toward education, for example, this federal program only allows the money to go back to law enforcement.
Franco said, “On that day my whole life changed, when I was robbed by our own police officers that are here to protect and serve us.”