Police say they smelled drugs before seizing $ 106,000 at Dallas Love Field, report says
According to a police incident report obtained this week by The morning news from Dallas.
Detectives took $ 106,829 in cash from the 25-year-old Chicago woman on December 2 after a police dog, Ballentine, alerted authorities to her luggage.
Police neither arrested nor charged the woman, who was at the airport during a layover. The woman could not be reached on Friday for comment; The news does not name her because she has not been charged with a crime.
Police were able to proceed with the seizure through civil forfeiture policies, which under Texas law allow law enforcement to seize property they believe is or may be part of a crime. of a crime in the future. Policies have long been viewed as controversial because of the broad powers they confer on officers.
Dallas police publicly praised Ballentine on the department’s Facebook page, where they posted a photo of the dog behind dozens of stacks of cash. The post went viral, sparking a torrent of questions and criticism.
Police have not disclosed many details of the incident since publication, but the incident report reveals the reasoning officers used to justify the seizure.
The detective story
Police said two narcotics detectives were working at the airport when Ballentine alerted them to a drug smell emanating from a black suitcase locked with a combination lock, according to the report. Ballentine is trained to pick up the scents of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine.
The suitcase was intended for a city where narcotics are often exported, according to the report, which does not name the city. Police also redacted the names of the detectives.
The report said detectives believed a search warrant “would not be obtained in time and could place an excessive burden on passengers and / or airlines” if the bag was not immediately searched because the luggage had to. be transferred to another plane.
Authorities opened the suitcase and found two padded shipping bags wrapped in blankets, according to the report. The covers contained wads of $ 100, $ 50, $ 20, $ 10, $ 5 and $ 1 bills, according to the police. There were no clothes or other items, according to the report.
A detective also smelled marijuana, police wrote in the report.
Detectives found the woman inside an airport terminal, and said she had agreed to speak to them, according to the report. The woman told detectives she had a gray suitcase closed with a zipper and was not carrying cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine when asked by police, according to the report.
Police asked the woman if she was carrying a large amount of cash, and she told them she had about $ 20,000 and clothes inside the bag, according to the report.
Detectives asked about her trade and she said she was a dancer who also worked in real estate, adding that she had sold a house, according to the report.
The report states that detectives believed the money had been obtained through an illegal sale of narcotics and was the result of drug trafficking because Ballentine had alerted them to the bag; because the woman misdescribed the suitcase and its contents; and because of the amount of money as well as the way it was packaged.
The report says detectives told the woman the money was going to be seized, to which she “seemed unfazed” and that she signed a property receipt for the money.
Detectives turned the money over to the FBI after seizing it, according to the report. The FBI confirmed that the office took possession of the money.
Dallas Police said in a written statement that detectives conducted a follow-up investigation before seizing the money, adding that Love Field officers were “fully trained and experienced in various criminal interdiction techniques and tactics, including many were used in this incident “.
The ministry said the case would go through the civilian assets forfeiture process and “follow up the investigation with our federal partners” due to the nature of the seizure and where it occurred.
Civil forfeiture rules have been hotly contested across the United States for years. Texas law says law enforcement can seize property – and potentially keep it – if they believe it is related to a past crime or could be related to a future crime. Property or assets can be foreclosed even if the owner is not charged with a felony.
Most of the property that is retained can be used for local budgets. Texas Attorney General’s Office reported in 2017 that law enforcement agencies and state prosecutors made more than $ 50 million in one year seizing property through civil and criminal forfeiture.
Some advocacy groups, such as the ACLU, say the laws violate civil liberties and allow “law enforcement for profit” rather than the fight against crime.
Scott Palmer, an attorney specializing in civil forfeiture cases, said the key issues in the Love Field case are what evidence authorities will point to linking the money to a crime and whether a police dog sniffing a bag in a airport was quite likely. have the bag searched and seized the money when they did.
He cited a 2017 CNN report detailing research that shows traces of cocaine can be found on almost 80% of dollar bills. Morphine, heroin, methamphetamine and amphetamine can also be detected on dollar bills, according to the report, which Palmer says calls into question whether the dog’s alert was a cause sufficiently probable.
“If I’m a Dallas County Civilian District Attorney and you bring this case to me, I guess so, how am I going to prove it was contraband?” Palmer said. âI mean, it’s not like it just takes it for granted or that things speak for themselves. They must have proof.
Palmer cited a recent civil forfeiture case he had in Rockwall County in which his client was able to recover around $ 35,000 that had been seized. That police case had obvious problems, Palmer said, but it took about a year and a half to get the money back, some of which ended up going towards attorney fees.
Texas lags behind other states on civil forfeiture reform, said Grant Gerleman, a lawyer who works in Palmer’s office. He said that in some other states in the country, law enforcement is only allowed to seize property if there is an accompanying arrest.
âThe underlying premise is that if someone commits a crime, they shouldn’t be able to profit from that crime,â Gerleman said. âThe problem is, it’s being abused and basically being used to fund government ministry projects when they’re not even taking the right steps. “
The city’s Community Policing Oversight Board plans to discuss the Love Field incident at its January meeting.
Council members have asked a variety of questions this week about the case, including what the ministry’s policies are on triggers for a seizure, how often seized property is returned and who has the right to know why police have took the money.
“I understand that there are sensitive confidential matters that may be part of an investigation that they cannot disclose to the public, but someone with oversight responsibility needs to know why this has happened,” he said. said Brandon Friedman, who represents board member Paul Ridley. East Dallas District on the board.
“I think this is a critical issue,” added Tami Brown Rodriguez, who represents Paula Blackmon’s East Dallas District. “And I’m so glad we have the opportunity to bring it up because it affects so many people.”