Driver told to give up cash or have car towed after illegal search
April 30, 2014
Newly released dash cam footage shows the tactics used by one Nevada sheriff’s deputy to extort large amounts of cash from innocent motorists.
In video obtained by KLAS-TV this week, Humboldt County Sheriff’s Deputy Lee Dove, who just pulled over a driver for going 3 miles over the speed limit, can be seen searching a vehicle without probable cause.
“Well, I’m gonna search that vehicle first, ok?” Dove says to the driver, Tan Nguyen.
As Dove opens the vehicle’s doors and hatchback, Nguyen, who has not given the deputy permission, demands to know why his vehicle is being searched. Without a legitimate explanation, Dove refuses to answer.
“Because I’m talking to you… well, no, I don’t have to explain that to you,” Dove says as he discovers $50,000 in cash and $10,000 in cashiers checks. “I’m not going to explain that to you, but I am gonna put my drug dog on that. If my dog alerts, I’m seizing the money. You can try to get it back but you’re not.”
Despite Nguyen explaining how he won the cash in Las Vegas, Dove continues the confiscation with no proof that the money was obtained illegally.
“Good luck proving it. Good luck proving it. You’ll burn it up in attorney fees before we give it back to you,” Dove says.
Although police departments are allowed in some states to seize and spend cash linked to criminal activity under heavily abused forfeiture laws, Dove instead decides to outright extort Nguyen, telling him that his vehicle will be towed if he does not give up the $50,000.
“It’s your call. If you want to walk away, you can take the cashiers checks, the car and everything and you can bolt and you’re on your way,” Dove says. “But you’re gonna be walking away from this money and abandoning it.”
Unsurprisingly, according to local blogger Dee Holzel, the sheriff’s department and District Attorney have claimed that no illegal activity has ever taken place in regards to officers seizing cash.
“What they said initially was, ‘well, these are civil forfeiture programs. These kinds of things happen everywhere. There’s nothing unusual about Humboldt County.’ But that turned out to not be true,” Holzel explained. “When you have people by the side of the road and you’re having them abandon their money so they’ll be allowed to get in their car and drive away, they don’t do that everywhere.”
Nguyen’s lawyer, John Ohlson, also blasted the actions of the officer, calling the scenario a blatant highway robbery.
“An armed person stops a traveler and demands the traveler’s money and tells the traveler that unless he gets in his car and moves on down the road and forgets all about it, he’s going to take his car too,” Ohlson said. “I would say that’s pretty close to what you’re describing as highway robbery.”
Luckily, Nguyen was not only given his cash back, but granted an extra $10,000 for attorney fees from the department as well. Other victims such as Matt Lee, who had $2,400 taken by Dove, was forced to sign a confidentiality agreement with Humboldt County in order to get his.
“They’re buying their silence with their own money,” said Ohlson, who also represented Lee.
Following a massive uproar from local residents, Humboldt County Sheriff Ed Kilgore now claims his officers will no longer ask for people’s money during traffic stops unless a crime is suspected, even though Dove has seized cash before by claiming to smell non-existent marijuana.
“We want to do the right thing. I am a strong proponent of fighting the war on drugs, and I want to make sure everything we do here is on the up-and-up,” Kilgore said.
Unfortunately, Nevada is only one of many states experiencing similar corruption. Earlier this year, a Tennessee cop struggled to answer questions from a local news group after seizing $22,000 from an innocent driver. Despite telling the officer he was using the cash to buy a new car, the officer was found to have left the driver’s explanation out of the police report.
In 2012, a Wisconsin family attempting to bail their son out of jail had $7,500 seized after police claimed a drug dog alerted to narcotics on the cash. It was soon learned that the officers had forced the family to bring cash instead of a check, likely knowing that 90 percent of cash is tainted with cocaine residue.