The district attorney of Shelby County, already under federal investigation over alleged abuse of drug seizure laws, is now accused of extracting cash from accused drug dealers in exchange for leniency on the prosecution end, the Associated Press reports.
Shelby County District Attorney Lynda K. Russell is accused of being an integral cog in the scheme, in which "authorities collected more than $800,000 in less than a year using a practice that essentially let suspects buy their way out of allegations that, if proven, would probably have resulted in prison sentences," according to the story.
Russell is named in a federal lawsuit that alleges law enforcement agents in Shelby County and the town of Tenaha illegally stopped and searched motorists, focusing on "non-white citizens." She pleaded her Fifth Amendment rights in a deposition in August.
According to an August case filing, law enforcement officers in Tenaha would call Russell or her office after making a stop finding drugs to determine "whether to release the individuals, arrest them, seize their property, or return property that had already been seized."
The filing claims that "District Attorney Russell had an agreement with the Tenaha Marshal's office and the Constable's office on what percentage of the seizures the District Attorney would get."
From the AP story:
The system engineered by Shelby County District Attorney Lynda Kaye Russell is now one focus of a federal criminal investigation that is also reviewing whether Russell and other law enforcement officials targeted black motorists for traffic stops.
The money from those and other defendants increased the DA's forfeiture account by more than two hundredfold and helped ease a tight budget. The county's former auditor has testified that at least a portion of it was spent on campaign materials, parades, holiday decorations, food, flowers, gifts and charitable contributions.
Four years ago Russell was lauded by the state Attorney General's office for her role in catching an employee who was stealing money from the county's indigent health care fund. Russell took office in 1999.
Shelby County sits along the border with Louisiana in the Piney Woods region.
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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