Charles Clarke’s $11,000 in savings were seized by law enforcement officials before he boarded his flight to Florida in February 2014. A year later, and with no crime charges brought against him, police have yet to return Clarke’s money.
At the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport, authorities from the Drug Enforcement Administration searched through Clarke’s belongings after a ticket agent said his bag smelled like marijuana. Prompted by the police, Clarke said that he had $11,000 on him and admitted to smoking marijuana en route to the airport.
Although authorities found no drugs after the search, they still seized his money. Now, with help from the Institute for Justice, Clarke is taking his case to federal court.
“I was scared, it was a ton of emotions going through my mind,” Clarke told Business Insider. “I didn’t know what to do or what was going to happen; I just knew I was losing my life savings and that I wouldn’t have anything when it was gone.”
Clarke’s $11,000 came from five years' worth of jobs, financial aid, gifts, and his mother’s benefits as an injured Army veteran, according to Forbes. Because his mother was moving apartments, Clarke took the money with him when he flew to Cincinnati, Ohio, to visit his family, fearing the moving company would find it.
The officers who seized his money claimed they had “probable cause” to do so for a variety of factors, including his one-way ticket purchase, his inability to prove where the money came from, a K-9 giving a positive indication, and the smell of marijuana on his luggage, reports the Daily Signal.
Clarke’s money was seized through a legal process called civil forfeiture. Under the process, law enforcement officers can seize assets from individuals if there is suspected illegal activity. The seizure can occur without a crime being charged against an individual.
Renée Flaherty, one of Clarke’s attorneys, told Business Insider that civil forfeiture laws motivate law enforcement, as state and local police get a percentage of forfeiture proceeds for referring seized assets to federal authorities.
“Police and prosecutors cannot treat citizens like ATM's,” Flaherty said.
The government has offered Clarke a settlement, but he has no plans to go along with government deals, according to The Daily Signal.
“I want everyone to know that carrying cash is not a crime,” Clarke said. “The law is not right. Innocent people are being treated like criminals without even being convicted of anything.”
Photo Credit: Institute for Justice via The Daily Signal