A Cheektowaga man is taking legal action against Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard and a sheriff’s deputy for the return of $80,110 cash and a 2012 luxury vehicle, both of them seized from him in a traffic stop August 20.
Buffalo attorney Robert M. Goldstein stated his client in the lawsuit, James L. Terrell, was not charged with a crime.
“He wasn’t given any tickets, and he hasn’t been given any traffic infractions since that day,” Goldstein informed The Buffalo News.
Lawsuit notes that Terrell was pulled over about 1 p.m. at an unspecified location in Buffalo, after that the sheriff’s deputy forcibly removed Terrell from his car – a 2012 Infiniti QX56, which is now worth about $25,000. The deputy seized the car and then searched it.
A man with Terrell’s name and date of birth was found guilty of drug-related charges in Pennsylvania in 2012, court records from Susquehanna County show. But that record appears to have played lack of role in the decision to seize the property.
“The vehicle was stopped. They could not discover an excuse to search for it. They then seized it,” Goldstein stated.
“After they seized it, I believe they carried out a search and discovered the cash in the car that he was using to start a bar. When we requested it back, they said they had forwarded it on to the Customs and Immigration Service,” he stated.
U.S. Customs has the authority of forfeiture proceedings for the federal government.
Federal law allows police agencies to seize cash they think is ill-gotten and then look forward to federal court permission to keep the money once the authorities establish a basis for their suspicion or possible cause. Often, that involves signs from a drug-sniffing dog that the currency bears traces of unlawful drugs, a review of such cases reveals.
With civil forfeiture, owners are not required to be convicted or even charged but they can still happen to lose cash, cars, homes and other types of property, states the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit, libertarian law firm based in Virginia that aims to limit government power. The law enforcement bodies that seized the property reap some or all of the proceeds, the institute states.
The Sheriff’s Office, which generally does not discuss when it’s named in pending litigation, did not reply to a request for further information about the Terrell incident.
Terrell’s complaint accuses the sheriff’s deputy of having no legal right to seize anything from him as he was not charged with having committed any crime.
Goldstein stated the fact that his client was carrying around an unusually large sum of money is not evidence that a crime was committed.
“He was going to do some banking, and he had collected it from various sources, and that was the purpose of it — as part of a business transaction,” Goldstein stated.
Goldstein, who refused to talk about his client’s occupation, said that Terrell’s job status is has no relevance to the case.
“Our position is, it doesn’t matter what he does or he doesn’t do. The situation is they had no legitimate purpose in taking it,” he stated, referring to the money and Terrell’s vehicle.
“They discovered no drugs. They discovered no guns. And just because someone has a large amount of money on them during the day or any time, you don’t have the right either to take the money or the car without a crime being committed,” Goldstein added.
“All they have is a set of suspicions, and they weren’t able to follow through on it. Our positions are, they should have followed through on it before giving his property away.”
Together with the property seized from him, Terrell also is looking for compensation for the $100 a day he said it has cost him to rent a vehicle since August 20.