By Robert O’Harrow, Jr. Washington Post, November 10, 2014
The two men in the rented red Nissan Altima were poker players traveling through Iowa on their way to Las Vegas. The police were state troopers on the hunt for criminals, contraband and cash.
They intersected last year on a rural stretch of Interstate 80, in a seemingly routine traffic stop that would soon raise new questions about laws that allow police to take money and property from people not charged with crimes.
By the time the encounter was over, the gamblers had been detained for more than two hours. Their car was searched without a warrant. And their cellphones, a computer and $100,020 of their gambling “bankroll” were seized under state civil asset-forfeiture laws. The troopers allowed them to leave, without their money, after issuing a traffic warning and a citation for possession of marijuana paraphernalia that carried a $65 fine, court records show.
Months later, an attorney for the men obtained a video of the stop. It showed that the motorists were detained for a violation they did not commit — a failure to signal during a lane change — and authorities were compelled to return 90 percent of the money.
Now the men are questioning the police tactics in an unusual federal civil rights lawsuit.