I-Team: Lawsuit filed over freeway cash seizures - 8 News NOW

I-Team: Lawsuit filed over freeway cash seizures

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Deputy Lee Dove Deputy Lee Dove
Dee Holzel talks with I-Team reporter Glen Meek. Dee Holzel talks with I-Team reporter Glen Meek.
LAS VEGAS --  A lawsuit has been filed against the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department alleging deputies there are unlawfully seizing cash from motorists traveling on I-80 toward California.

One of the questionable stops was captured on dash-cam video.

Deputy Lee Dove can be observed and heard on the video as he talks with a driver he pulled over.

Deputy Lee Dove: "I just smelled weed. I know I did. I know I smelled weed."

The Humboldt County deputy never finds weed in the car he's searching after a traffic stop on I-80, but he does find $50,000 in cash and $10,000 in cashiers checks.

Dove is suspicious because the driver gave him conflicting answers to his questions and he tells the driver he's confiscating the cash.

Deputy Dove: "Everyday I do this. It's all I do for a living. It's drug interdiction and I get money."

Deputy Dove doesn't arrest or even cite the driver, but he offers him a deal. The driver can sign a release abandoning the cash and keep the cashiers checks and go on his way.

Deputy Dove: "With everybody, that's what I do because they don't want the problems or the headaches so they abandon the money. They take what they've got in their wallet, or in this case cashiers checks, and they bolt."

"The public did not respond positively to this," said Dee Holzel, a local blogger.
Holzel is a Winnemucca blogger who takes the temperature of the town at the Global Espresso coffee shop.

She's keeping a close eye on these currency seizures along 1-80. She's concerned that it's not always people with large amounts of unexplained cash.

"Little numbers, amounts as small as six or seven hundred dollars that anybody might have in their pocket if they were taking a trip," Holzel said.

"Some of them are drug dealers, some are innocent people, but that's not the point. The point is -- none of these people should be having their cash taken from them without having evidence of them committing a crime," said Matt Lee, a target of a cash seizure.

Lee wrote about his experience on Holzel's blog.

Though he was never charged or even cited for anything, Lee had $2,400 taken from him by Deputy Dove as he drove to California from Michigan to look for a job.

"I don't think many people know what the asset forfeiture laws dictate. What's allowed to be done? And I think if people knew, it would be overturned in a heartbeat," Lee said.

Lee can't discuss the details of his case because, like some others, he signed a confidentiality agreement with Humboldt County in order to get his money back.

"They're buying their silence with their own money," said John Ohlson, Lee's attorney.

Deputy Dove: The only reason why you have that cash is because it's related to some sort of illegal activity. You know it and I know it."

"You got to differentiate between the drug trafficker and the guy who, you know, is going to gamble or likes to carry cash or doesn't trust banks or something," Ohlson said.

He helped Lee get his money back and got $50,000 returned to the driver shown in the dash-cam video. Ohlson has also filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of others who have had cash taken. He says he understands the logic of drug interdiction, but thinks the logic Humboldt deputies are using is flawed.

"They sell weed in California. These people were heading to California, therefore their intention was to buy weed. Even if that logic was true -- which it's not true -- it doesn't matter what your intention was," Ohlson said.

Driver: "I mean, you have no right to take this money."
Deputy Dove: "Yes, I do."
Driver: "I haven't done anything."
Deputy Dove: "Yes, you have. I believe you have. I believe you have, ok."

Holzel and others are calling for an investigation -- of the cash seizures -- that's independent of the local district attorney and sheriff.

"If everything's on the up-and-up, awesome, That's great. But we would like, I think the majority of people would like, it looked at by an outside agency," Holzel said.

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