“Did you know police can just take your stuff if they suspect it’s involved in a crime? They can!
It’s a shady process called “civil asset forfeiture,” and it would make for a weird episode of Law and Order. See?” Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
On May 31, 2008, approximately 130 members of the CAID gathered for Funk Night, a well-publicized monthly event featuring music and dancing from midnight to 5 a.m. Shortly after 2 a.m., Detroit police officers, dressed entirely in black, with their faces masked and guns drawn, stormed into the CAID and ordered everyone present to lie face down. Many of the CAID’s patrons were standing in the back yard and were forced to lie with their faces in the mud.
Those who asked questions, including a lawyer, or did not move fast enough were kicked to the ground by police officers. The officers then separated men and women and searched them all, issuing each a misdemeanor citation for “loitering in a place of illegal occupation.” The officers also seized the cars of anyone who had driven to the CAID under Michigan’s “nuisance abatement” statute. In total, approximately 130 loitering citations were issued and more than 40 vehicles were seized.
“In a free country, the police may not conduct commando-style raids on innocent people and seize their property without justification,” said Dan Korobkin, ACLU of Michigan staff attorney. “We hope this case will put a stop to the Motor City shakedowns we’ve seen across the city – the practice of arresting innocent people, seizing their cars, and refusing to return them unless they pay a $900 ransom.”
In a 32-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Victoria A. Roberts ruled that the police violated the Fourth Amendment when they arrested everyone at the art gallery merely for being present and seized their cars without evidence that they had broken a law. In addition, Judge Roberts found that the police misconduct at the CAID was not an isolated incident, but was in fact part of “a widespread practice” and “custom” by the Detroit Police Department of unconstitutionally “detaining, searching, and prosecuting large groups of persons” and impounding their cars based on their mere presence at a raid location.