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Cop Watch: Tenaha Police Highway Robbery Scheme Subject of Fed Class Action Suit

Tenaha is a small Texas town, but it’s on a big traffic route. It sits smack dab in the pathway between Houston and Louisiana’s gambling spots, on US 59 – a highway that’s also known to be a major route for drugs being transported up from Mexico to the South and Midwest.

Lotsa cash in those cars as they speed down the highway.

Which may be why the police in Tenaha got the big idea to start pulling people over and taking property from them. And by property, we mean cars, cash, cell phones, digital cameras. Apparently, whatever took their fancy.

Traffic Stops Gone Very, Very Bad

What these cops in Shelby County, Texas, were doing was bending the State of Texas asset forfeiture law, which was enacted to discourage drug trafficking.

The Tenaha police would stop drivers and detain them. The local District Attorney was in on the con game, too, by the way.

The drivers, with their families in tow, were taken in – and shown paperwork where they could be charged with bad, bad felonies like money laundering. The option? Forfeit the property (cash, car, whatever) to the county, sign a waiver, and escape the high costs of defending themselves against this bad, bad crime. If anyone balked and children were involved, these renegades would threaten to call Child Protective Services to come and take the kids.

Imagine how horrible this must have been for these drivers. No wonder many of them just signed the waiver and got the heck out of there.

Class Action Suit Reveals the Numbers

In the class action suit filed by 10 of the wronged drivers, paperwork reveals that out of almost 200 instances (covering 2006-2008) where the cops took property, only 50 were charged with any kind of drug possession. The other 147 had nothing illegal with them, and had done no illegal act (like speeding, etc.).

The class action also reveals that most of those pulled over by the Tenaha cops were out of state drivers.

And, the biggest fact of all in this case: most of these drivers were African American.

Yep, that’s right.

Suit filed in Marshall, Texas, and It’s Got Lots of Official Government Defendants

In addition to the guy who did most of the arrests in these cases, Tenaha City Marshall Barry Washington, the lawsuit also brings in as defendants Tenaha’s Mayor, George Bowers; the District Attorney of Shelby County, Linda K. Russell, and the Shelby County Constable, Randy Whatley.
Sources:

KTBS.Com
http://www.ktbs.com/news/Lawsuit-challenges-traffic-stops-in-East-Texas-town-27709/

Wall Street Journal
http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2009/03/10/chicago-trib-use-caution-while-driving-through-tenaha-texas/


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