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    Friday, February 11, 2005

    Alachua County Sheriff's Deputies Behave Like Highwaymen

    Story dated 11 February 2005

    None dare call it highway robbery, but it is. Likely, my views on this matter will get me the label of being anti law-enforcement. But I am not. What I am against is the application of state power to misappropriate property. Police do this all the time. They call it something like 'a proper application of asset forfeiture laws'. You know the type -- 'just following orders'. First, let me tell you about how this story was reported in the media. On Wednesday night of this week, "Alachua County Sheriff's Deputy Josh Crews stopped the driver of a pickup at about 11:30 p.m. heading north on the interstate [I-75] for straddling lane lines." The driver of the truck was Jose Luis Llamas Delgado, a 39-year-old man from Englewood, California. Apparently, when Deputy Crews asked Mr. Delgado if he might search the vehicle, Mr. Delgado did not know of his right to refuse such a search. Nor did Deputy Crews inform Mr. Delgado of his right refuse the request. When Deputy Crews searched the truck, "he found a flattened spare tire with $160,780 secreted inside." Now, the facts, according to Lise Fisher of the Gainesville Sun state that a drug dog was used. However, the grammar used in the article, when taken in context with the other facts, makes it unclear whether or not drugs were actually found. What is clear is that the dog located the money in its hiding place. I believe that the author of the article meant to say that drug dogs can also be used to locate money. Lt. Jim Troiano, spokesman for the Sheriff's Office, stated that they suspect that the money is related to a drug trafficking organization. They base this opinion upon "comments made by the truck's driver, the dog's response and the location of the hidden cash." Mr. Delgado has not been arrested, nor have charges been filed against him (so I guess the dog didn't actually find any contraband narcotics). The Deputies did, however, seize the money. Yes, that's right Mr. Delgado, we can't find anything to charge you with, but we're keeping your money. The Sheriff's Department is planning to initiate federal asset forfeiture proceedings. They are working with the Drug Enforcement Agency (which has a questionable record when it comes to respecting the Bill of Rights) in this matter. In the meantime, Lt. Troiano has said that this is like "arresting the money." Of course, since they haven't charged Mr. Delgado with anything, they don't really have probable cause to 'arrest' the money, now do they? Except the opinion of the 'arresting' deputies that Mr. Delgado cannot have that money for any legitimate purpose. You know, since it was hidden away in a spare tire.

    Think about that for a moment. Imagine if you were driving with even $50,000 in your car. Would you not hide it in the best place you can think of as a precaution against theft? Why is it suspicious that this man was hiding a large sum of money? Last time I checked, it was not illegal to have money. You have money, do you not? Forget Mr. Delgado for a moment. At first glance, he does fit the profile of a drug dealer -- at least to people who hold certain stereotypes. That being the case, a lot of people will assume that it is the right thing for the Sheriff's Department to impound the money. But he was not charged with anything whatsoever. That means that Deputy Crews and the Alachua County Sheriff's Department applied state power to take money that was in Mr. Delgado's possession without his permission, or any action on Mr. Delgado's part to justify such a taking. Do you think, then that Deputy Crews or other deputies would hesitate to take your money? After all, Mr. Delgado's having committed a crime (or not) did not factor into the taking. Given this standard of behavior, what makes you think that the Alachua County Sheriff's Department would treat you any different than Mr. Delgado was treated?

    Imagine that you have a grandmother whose family's savings were wiped out when their bank failed in the depression. As a consequence, she does not trust banks and, instead, keeps her money in pickle jars in the basement. Now, imagine that she wants to open a college account for your son in the amount of $75,000. How is she going to get that money to the bank? She will drive, of course. Now, your grandmother probably has an old car. Maybe one of the taillights isn't working and Deputy Crews pulls her over. Now imagine that he wants to search the car for some reason. Your grandmother thinks of law enforcement personnel as peace officers, so, or course she is going to let him. She has no idea that people who were once peace officers now spend a lot of their time as regulatory enforcers. Now what do you suppose is going to happen when Deputy Crews finds the $75,000 that your grandmother is carrying? Sure she hasn't committed a crime; but neither did Mr. Delgado (that we know of). What if Deputy Crews makes an adjudication (as an officer of an administrative agency) that someone driving a beat-up old car ought not have $75,000 in cash? What's going to stop him from taking it? The Constitution ought to, but it doesn't. And if the Constitution doesn't stop a sheriff's deputy from taking someone's money, what differentiates him from a highway robber? Other than the fact that you won't be arrested for resisting a highway robber, that is.

    Perhaps the thing that disturbed me the most about this whole thing is that the press simply parroted the facts that the Sheriff's Department fed them. No one questioned anything. What is the point of having the freedom of the press defended in the Constitution if the press isn't going to report when the government might be violating the rights of the people?

    The Sheriff of Alachua County at the time of this asset seizure is Stephen M. Oelrich.


    Fisher, Lise. "$160,780 found during traffic stop," The Gainesville Sun, 2005 February 11,

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