Nevada Highway Patrol sued for alleged racketeering – using K-9’s for illegal searches and seizures

Nevada Highway Patrol troopers have filed a 104 page lawsuit against their own agency and against Las Vegas Metro Police, alleging that K-9’s were purposefully trained to provide false alerts – alerting in response to cues such as hand signals, allowing their handlers to systematically conduct illegal searches and seizures for financial benefit.

The complaint alleges that the drug-sniffing dogs used by troopers in the program were intentionally being trained to operate as so-called trick ponies, or dogs that provide officers false alerts for the presence of drugs.

The dogs were being trained to alert their handlers by cues, instead of by picking up a drug’s scent by sniffing, the complaint said. When a dog gives a false alert, this resulted in illegal searches and seizures, including money and property, the complaint said. . . .

The complaint also alleges the defendants, which also includes the state’s Public Safety Department and individuals in NHP and Metro, were involved in a Federal RICO conspiracy, also known as the Federal Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act.

The actual complaint is published on KLAS’s website.

Forfeitures are a cash-cow that funds police departments and, in S.C., solicitor’s offices – they are also a source of corruption, illegal searches and seizures, and motivation for police to break the law, often with impunity.  In S.C., police/ narcotics officers often will take a person’s vehicle, without regard to whether the vehicle belongs to that person or was just borrowed from a family member (the forfeiture law provides that an innocent owner’s vehicle cannot be seized).  Police will take any money that they find in a car or in a person’s wallet, calling it a forfeiture even when it is clear that the money is not a product of drug sales – I have talked to many people who were charged with simple possession of marijuana for a small bag or even a roach in their ashtray, where the police then took the person’s money out of their wallet and called it a forfeiture.

I’ve talked to illegal immigrants who claimed they were “shaken down” on the side of the road – large amounts of cash were taken from them, no drugs were found in their vehicle, but they were told to sign a consent forfeiture agreement or they would be arrested.  These were individuals who do not speak the English language well, who do not know the laws in our country, and who were easy targets for over-reaching narcotics officers.

There are countless “forfeitures” that go unchallenged, because the police know that it is not financially worthwhile for an attorney to take a person’s case and file suit for the return of $1200, or a few hundred dollars – it takes time and money to prosecute or defend a forfeiture claim in civil court.  For the police, and the solicitor’s office who gets a piece of the action by statute, these small amounts of money add up to a significant payday over time.

The forfeiture laws are the single biggest motivation for the increase in the past decade of pretextual stops and searches on the highways, racial profiling on the interstates, and what amounts to highway robbery when a police officer, armed with the authority of the state and accompanied by a German Shepherd, takes a citizen’s property at gunpoint on the side of the road.  Greed leads to corruption.

h/t Radley Balko

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