in Houston, Texas
Rogue law enforcement in Shelby County to return motorists’ cash
Monday, Nov 05, 2012, 09:36AM CST
By Mark Lisheron

Hey, all of you unsuspecting transients who had the misfortune to be stopped in the cash confiscation center that once was Tenaha, your ship has come in.

Well, not many of you, and it’s more like a leaky dinghy.  

Years after local law enforcement officers in this little town 15 miles from the Louisiana border took it upon themselves to appropriate roughly $3 million in cash and property from 140 people who were never charged with anything, the current district attorney in Shelby County is returning about $100,000 of it, Associated Press reports.

Kenneth Florence, installed by Gov. Rick Perry after the resignation of Linda Kay Russell, is locating those fortunate to have their shakedowns recorded in seizure accounts where records were rarely kept.

Among its few advantages,Tenaha is right on Highway 59, a popular and much-traveled route to and from Houston. From 2006 through 2008 this self-authorized Highwaymen Patrol stopped cars under a variety of pretexts and took cash and other valuables, forcing people to sign waivers or face prosecution.

Most of the ill-gotten assets have never been accounted for, Timothy Garrigan, a Nacogdoches attorney in a class action lawsuit filed in the case, told Texas Watchdog.

The lawsuit, filed in 2010 by the American Civil Liberties Union,  was settled by a consent decree ending the expropriation practices and setting down strict guidelines for traffic stops by law enforcement in Shelby County.

But although the case has been under investigation by federal authorities and has been the reason for convening at least two grand juries, no law enforcement officials involved have been charged with a crime or disciplined.

None, including the former district attorney, remains in a position of authority, Garrigan says.

The consent decree was explicit in allowing individual victims to sue the municipality for damages. Garrigan says he is representing clients from Arkansas, Maryland, Michigan, Washington, D.C., as well as Texas.

Garrigan, who has practiced a lot of civil rights law in more than 25 years in East Texas, says he thinks the war on drugs and on terror have emboldened law enforcement officers everywhere.

I've seen law enforcement gaining a freer hand to abuse their authority with increasingly little concern that they might be held accountable, “Garrigan says.  “I'm not anti-law enforcement. I know they have a difficult and important job to do, but the bad apples have reason to think they are free to do as they please. As a result more people fear the police instead of respecting them.”

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of money by flickr user athrasher, used via a Creative Commons license.

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