Someone recently had their Chevrolet Camaro seized when they did nothing wrong.
It's not uncommon for cars seized from criminals to be auctioned off by the cops. But in Minnesota, a controversial new civil forfeiture law supported by the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association allows police to seize and sell cars from innocent people - and keep all the profits. Speaking with KSTP, Emma Dietrich described how her 2013 Chevrolet Camaro, which had been fully paid off, was seized by police when a State Patrol officer pulled over a co-worker driving her home in the Camaro after they were clocked at 118 mph.
After having a few drinks with co-workers, Dietrich believed she was "doing the right thing" when she accepted a ride home from a co-worker. However, Dietrich wasn't aware that the co-worker had a DWI charge on his record. After refusing a breathalyzer test, the driver was arrested and the Camaro was seized. Despite Dietrich not having a criminal record, the State Patrol held her responsible for her coworker's action.
"That the right thing to do was to have a complete history of his driving infractions and to also give him a sobriety test. That is what they said I should have done," Dietrich said.
Investigating this further, KSTP discovered that judges in Minnesota have ordered law enforcement to return vehicles over 600 times in the last three years. Police declined KSTP's requests for interviews but the State Patrol Chief Col. Matt Langer issued a statement saying the State Patrol is "committed to enforcing DWI laws," which include vehicle forfeiture "for the most serious DWI violations and repeat offenders." However, Langer did not acknowledge questions about Dietrich's case or other innocent owners who have had their cars seized.
"We follow state statutes as they're written, and we operate under our current policies," State Patrol spokesperson Lt. Gordon added. Lawmakers in Minnesota have been trying to change this controversial law that effectively penalizes innocent drivers. However, while there has been bipartisan support for the law to be changed to protect "innocent owners," attempts to change the law have been opposed by the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association.
"When you're taking vehicles from innocent owners… you're not making anyone safer, you're just lining your pockets," State Representative John Lesch protested. "It's not the right way to fund law enforcement… even law enforcement knows that."
After waiting for seven months, Dietrich decided to buy back the Camaro that she had already paid off for a negotiated price of $4,000. If that wasn't already demoralizing enough, she also now has to drive her Camaro with colored "whiskey plates" that indicate the driver has had a DWI, even though she has never been charged. "I really hate that I had to do a buy-back, but mentally, financially, emotionally, I can't handle this case being in limbo for maybe two more years," she said. In the last three years, police in Minnesota have seized nearly 14,000 cars under the forfeiture law, generating nearly $10 million for the departments.