Indianapolis officials face lawsuit over civil forfeiture

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indianapolis city officials and law enforcement officers face a lawsuit over alleged misuse of money and property seized during legal proceedings.

The lawsuit was filed in Marion County court by the national nonprofit Institute for Justice on behalf of six parties. The lawsuit challenges a state statute that allows police and prosecutors to deduct law enforcement costs from forfeited funds as a type of reimbursement, with any remainder going to the Common School Fund, which is used to build schools, The Indianapolis Star reported.

Sam Gedge, an attorney the Institute for Justice, argues that the statute violates the Indiana Constitution, which says that all, not some, forfeited funds must be deposited into the school fund.

The law in question is interpreted differently by each county, with some of them meticulously accounting for the investigative costs and sending the remaining dollars to the school fund, and many others not putting any money into the school fund.

In Marion County, the prosecutor’s office gets 30 percent of forfeited funds and the remaining 70 percent goes to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department or to the Metro Drug Task Force, according to memorandums of agreement between the agencies.

Law enforcement agencies in Marion County received an average of $888,112 in forfeited funds annually from 2003 to 2010, according to the complaint. That number reached about $1.5 million in 2011, the complaint states.

The people who are challenging the practice include a Greenfield couple whose two vehicles were seized in August 2013 because law enforcement officials believed they were being used by the couple’s son to transport marijuana.

Although the couple didn’t know about the drugs and didn’t face any criminal charges, they spent more than nine months trying to get their vehicles back, and they didn’t know why their vehicles had been taken until after a civil forfeiture lawsuit was filed against them.

Those named in the lawsuit include the Marion County prosecutor’s office and the city of Indianapolis.

A spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit, while messages seeking comment from the other defendants weren’t immediately returned.

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Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com

 

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