Stephen Lara is a 39-year-old retired Marine from Texas. He is a devoted father of two teenage daughters and, once a month, he drives from Texas to see them in California, where they live with their mother. Eager to be closer after spending the pandemic in Texas caring for his elderly parents, he has been shopping for a home near the California-Nevada border.
In February 2021, Stephen was making his usual trip west through Reno when he was pulled over by the Nevada Highway Patrol for supposedly following a tractor-trailer too closely.
The officer complimented Stephen’s driving, thanked him for observing the speed limit, and explained that NHP was “conducting a public information campaign” to help drivers avoid danger. Confident that the officer was only there to help, Stephen cooperated with his escalating investigation, even volunteering that he was carrying a large amount of cash.
Ninety minutes later, Stephen had been robbed of his life savings—$86,900—which he carried with him after a spate of robberies in his parents’ neighborhood. The officer who pulled Stephen over wanted to let him go; he was overruled by NHP Sergeant Glenn Rigdon, who ordered the money seized specifically so that it could be “adopted” by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
“Adoption” is a process by which federal law enforcement agencies can take over a seizure by state and local law enforcement. If the federal government is successful in forfeiting the property, its “equitable sharing” program guarantees the state or local agency that seized the property up to 80% of the proceeds for use in the agency’s budget.
In Stephen’s case, the DEA sat on his life savings for months, ignoring the legal deadlines requiring it to charge Stephen with a crime, begin a civil forfeiture case against his property, or return the money within six months of seizure. The DEA did none of those things. So, on August 30, IJ sued it in federal court on Stephen’s behalf.
Early the morning of September 1, the agency announced it would return all of Stephen’s money. In less than 24 hours, it had learned of our lawsuit, answered hard questions from The Washington Post, and committed to reviewing its policies for federal adoptions.
When we learned he would be getting his money back (filled with joy), he told us, “This isn’t over.”
And it isn’t. At the same time we filed in federal court, we also filed a major constitutional challenge in state court. Our state case aims to make federal adoptions impossible in Nevada as violations of the state constitution’s guarantees of reasonable seizures supported by probable cause and due process of law—not based on mere suspicion or for the financial benefit of the seizing agency. If we are successful, it will be the first time a state court has struck down federal adoptions. And a victory will take the profit motive out of roadside seizures.
Filmed with a Canon C70 with a 50mm 1.2 lens. Aputure 300d, 120d, and amaran.
(credit: Institute for Justice)
𝘈𝘭𝘭 𝘤𝘳𝘦𝘥𝘪𝘵 𝘨𝘰𝘦𝘴 𝘵𝘰 𝘤𝘰𝘱𝘺𝘳𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵 𝘩𝘰𝘭𝘥𝘦𝘳(𝘴).*
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NOTE: 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘪𝘯𝘧𝘰𝘳𝘮𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯, 𝘪𝘥𝘦𝘢𝘴, 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘷𝘪𝘦𝘸𝘴 𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘤𝘰𝘯𝘵𝘦𝘯𝘵 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘰𝘴𝘦 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘢𝘶𝘵𝘩𝘰𝘳(𝘴) / 𝘴𝘱𝘦𝘢𝘬𝘦𝘳(𝘴) / 𝘱𝘳𝘦𝘴𝘦𝘯𝘵𝘦𝘳(𝘴) 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘮𝘢𝘺 𝘯𝘰𝘵 𝘳𝘦𝘱𝘳𝘦𝘴𝘦𝘯𝘵 𝘮𝘺 𝘰𝘸𝘯 𝘱𝘦𝘳𝘴𝘰𝘯𝘢𝘭 𝘣𝘦𝘭𝘪𝘦𝘧𝘴/𝘷𝘪𝘦𝘸𝘴; 𝘐 𝘥𝘰 𝘯𝘰𝘵 𝘤𝘭𝘢𝘪𝘮 𝘵𝘰 𝘢𝘨𝘳𝘦𝘦 𝘰𝘳 𝘥𝘪𝘴𝘢𝘨𝘳𝘦𝘦 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘢𝘯𝘺 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘤𝘰𝘯𝘵𝘦𝘯𝘵𝘴 𝘱𝘳𝘦𝘴𝘦𝘯𝘵𝘦𝘥. 𝘛𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘤𝘰𝘯𝘵𝘦𝘯𝘵 𝘪𝘴 𝘯𝘰𝘵 𝘪𝘯𝘵𝘦𝘯𝘥𝘦𝘥 𝘢𝘴 𝘮𝘦𝘥𝘪𝘤𝘢𝘭 𝘰𝘳 𝘭𝘦𝘨𝘢𝘭 𝘢𝘥𝘷𝘪𝘤𝘦.
𝘔𝘺 𝘱𝘳𝘪𝘮𝘢𝘳𝘺 𝘨𝘰𝘢𝘭 𝘪𝘴 𝘵𝘰 𝘱𝘳𝘰𝘷𝘪𝘥𝘦 𝘢𝘤𝘤𝘦𝘴𝘴 𝘵𝘰 𝘪𝘯𝘧𝘰𝘳𝘮𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯 𝘴𝘰 𝘰𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘴 𝘮𝘢𝘺 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘦 𝘵𝘰 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘪𝘳 𝘰𝘸𝘯, 𝘮𝘰𝘳𝘦 𝘥𝘪𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘴𝘦𝘭𝘺 𝘪𝘯𝘧𝘰𝘳𝘮𝘦𝘥, 𝘤𝘰𝘯𝘤𝘭𝘶𝘴𝘪𝘰𝘯𝘴.
𝘍𝘈𝘐𝘙-𝘜𝘚𝘌 𝘊𝘖𝘗𝘠𝘙𝘐𝘎𝘏𝘛 𝘋𝘐𝘚𝘊𝘓𝘈𝘐𝘔𝘌𝘙
*𝘊𝘰𝘱𝘺𝘳𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵 𝘋𝘪𝘴𝘤𝘭𝘢𝘪𝘮𝘦𝘳 𝘜𝘯𝘥𝘦𝘳 𝘚𝘦𝘤𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯 107 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘊𝘰𝘱𝘺𝘳𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵 𝘈𝘤𝘵 1976, 𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘰𝘸𝘢𝘯𝘤𝘦 𝘪𝘴 𝘮𝘢𝘥𝘦 𝘧𝘰𝘳 "𝘧𝘢𝘪𝘳 𝘶𝘴𝘦" 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘱𝘶𝘳𝘱𝘰𝘴𝘦𝘴 𝘴𝘶𝘤𝘩 𝘢𝘴 𝘤𝘳𝘪𝘵𝘪𝘤𝘪𝘴𝘮, 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘮𝘦𝘯𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘨, 𝘯𝘦𝘸𝘴 𝘳𝘦𝘱𝘰𝘳𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘨, 𝘵𝘦𝘢𝘤𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨, 𝘴𝘤𝘩𝘰𝘭𝘢𝘳𝘴𝘩𝘪𝘱, 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘳𝘦𝘴𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘤𝘩. 𝘍𝘢𝘪𝘳 𝘶𝘴𝘦 𝘪𝘴 𝘢 𝘶𝘴𝘦 𝘱𝘦𝘳𝘮𝘪𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘥 𝘣𝘺 𝘤𝘰𝘱𝘺𝘳𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵 𝘴𝘵𝘢𝘵𝘶𝘵𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘮𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵 𝘰𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘸𝘪𝘴𝘦 𝘣𝘦 𝘪𝘯𝘧𝘳𝘪𝘯𝘨𝘪𝘯𝘨. 𝘕𝘰𝘯-𝘱𝘳𝘰𝘧𝘪𝘵, 𝘦𝘥𝘶𝘤𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯𝘢𝘭 𝘰𝘳 𝘱𝘦𝘳𝘴𝘰𝘯𝘢𝘭 𝘶𝘴𝘦 𝘵𝘪𝘱𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘣𝘢𝘭𝘢𝘯𝘤𝘦 𝘪𝘯 𝘧𝘢𝘷𝘰𝘳 𝘰𝘧 𝘧𝘢𝘪𝘳 𝘶𝘴𝘦.
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