Two California men are suing two Iowa State Patrol troopers and a special agent, claiming the officers illegally seized from them more than $100,000 in gambling winnings during a traffic stop last year.
William Davis and John Newmerzhycky claim they were driving home in a rented car after a poker tournament in Illinois, when they were pulled over by the troopers in April 2013. They claim the Iowa state’s so-called interdiction teams unjustly target out-of-state drivers with the intention of seizing their property.
“There is absolutely nothing illegal or uncommon about people driving through the United States with out-of-state plates ... and carrying amounts of cash,” Glen Downey, a Des Moines attorney representing the men, told The San Diego Union-Tribune. “There's nothing illegal about carrying cash, and yet law enforcement begins to treat individuals who are carrying cash as if they are criminals.”
Trooper Justin Simmons, a member of one of the state’s two interdiction teams, pulled the red Nissan Altima over, claiming Newmerzhycky failed to signal while passing another vehicle on the Iowa highway.
“I figured, once they get our (California) addresses, we're screwed,” Davis told USA Today of the stop. “They're going to take us apart and take our money.”
Troopers searched the car after claiming a drug-sniffing dog indicated there might be drugs in the vehicle. They found a locked briefcase containing more than $85,000. They also found another $15,000 in cash in a separate location and a small marijuana grinder in Newmerzhycky’s computer bag.
Newmerzhycky was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and the two were released. But the troopers seized the cash for the state.
The special agent named in the suit also notified law enforcement officials in California of the traffic stop.
That report led to subsequent searches of both Davis’ and Newmerzhycky’s California homes . Despite having state cards for medical marijuana they were both charged with felony drug charges for marijuana found in the houses. Those charges were later dropped.
Newmerzhycky’s California attorney, Benjamin Okin, said the whole incident should have never happened in the first place. He said Simmons’ dash cam shows the red car did signal.
“If you sit down and you watch the video, you can see very clearly that they signaled," Okin said. ”If you have a bad stop, then anything that flows from that is gone."
The pair hired an Iowa attorney to get their money back. The state initially fought that but finally settled out of court and returned $90,000 to the men. But Newmerzhycky and Davis spent over a third of that total on lawyer’s fees.
That is partly why the new lawsuit is seeking monetary damages.
Newmerzhycky also claims he suffered a stroke after the California charges were filed. Davis claims he lost his main source of income after the cash seizure forced him to sit out numerous poker tournaments.
“They destroyed my life, destroyed my reputation, destroyed my health,” Newmerzhycky said.
Photo Source: The Des Moines Register