I-Team: Judge orders seized cash returned

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Body camera video from an Elko County deputy shows Straughn Gorman suspected a set-up during a recent traffic stop.

“This is such a set-up. The dog alerted to nothing. There’s never been drugs in this car one time, never,” he said on the video.

It was the second time in approximately 40 minutes he was stopped for a minor traffic violation on Interstate 80. The Elko County deputy detaining him pretended not to know about the earlier stop by the Nevada Highway Patrol.

“Well, I’m going to check your information, because I don’t know if you got stopped, because I get told all the time, ‘I got stopped’ as a distraction,” the deputy said on the video.

In fact, he was aware NHP stopped Gorman, because the trooper called the deputy on the phone.

The highway patrolman stopped Gorman for going too slow in the fast lane, but the trooper didn’t have probable cause to search Gorman’s motor home which he suspected might have carried contraband.

So, the trooper called down the road to the Elko Sheriff’s Department and suggested that, if an officer with a drug dog stopped the RV, the dog might alert and give them probable cause.

That’s exactly what happened.

“My dog alerted to your car,” the deputy told Gorman on the tape.

“Did you make him do that?” Gorman asked.

“No, I did not make him do that,” the deputy answered.

Deputies obtained a warrant based on the dog alert and searched the vehicle.

“Call Kevin and tell him we’ve got potentially 100 grand here,” the deputy said.

Officers found $167,000 in cash, but no drugs or anything else illegal.

“At this point, we don’t have an arrestable offense,” the deputy said.

Police never arrested Gorman, but they did confiscate the cash, the motor home and practically everything in it.

“Your computer will be seized as evidence. Your cell phone will be seized as evidence. Your camera will be seized as evidence. All the money that is in there will be seized,” the deputy said.

Vincent Savarese is Gorman’s Las Vegas lawyer.

“There are a lot of unconstitutional vehicle stops and detentions, whether they’re singular or multiple,” he said.

Savarese persuaded a federal judge that, in this case, the back-to-back stops were unconstitutional.

“The federal court found that the… that these detentions were unconstitutionally prolongated, because they were. They were conducted in the absence of any objective, reasonable suspicion that he was committing any kind of offense,” he said.

The court ordered the cash returned to Gorman. The judge also took a swipe at police and prosecutors for initially not revealing that NHP stopped Gorman prior to Elko deputies, and that both stops were related.

The court said, “The government’s nondisclosure of the information regarding [the] initial stop is troubling for many reasons, but certainly because the relationship between the two stops is so obviously relevant.”

Ironically, during this search that the judge ruled unconstitutional, deputies pushed aside a copy of the U.S. Constitution as they rummaged for cash and contraband.

After the Elko deputies seized the cash, they turned it over to federal authorities as part of a civil forfeiture action.

The I-Team contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office for comment on the order to return the money to Gorman.
  
U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden says his office is seeking authority from the U.S. Solicitor General to appeal the judge’s decision.

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