Humphreys County Sheriff’s deputies, under certain circumstances, have the right to seize your stuff, but those deputies rarely keep an inventory of what they take, according to an audit released by Tennessee Comptrollers on Wednesday.
This problem probably goes as far back as a decade.
Auditors blasted sheriff’s deputies for failing to track a variety of seized items including drug evidence, cash, weapons and other types of personal property.
Members of the sheriff’s department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday, but they told auditors they did keep electronic inventory records.
But auditors said Sheriff Chris Davis had done no recent inventories in the department’s evidence room.
“He provided an inventory that was performed when he took office in 2006, but was not sure if they had done one since,” auditors said.
“Department personnel also advised that older items were not entered into the system, and many of these items were not properly tagged and identified. Due to the lack of complete inventory records, the sheriff could not determine if other items could also be missing from the evidence room.”
In April, auditors said, a deputy caught inmates taking two evidence bags full of pills from that same evidence room. One inmate acted as a lookout while another took the bags, which deputies later recovered. One inmate had access to the evidence room three or four times before this happened, the audit said.
One of the inmates was indicted in June and charged with burglary, the said.
In the audit report, deputies said they were installing more advanced security measures in that evidence room.
This isn’t the first time in recent years auditors have called out Tennessee law-enforcement agencies for reportedly abusing search-and-seizure powers.
Last year, members of the Morristown Police Department seized cars and demanded cash, which a police sergeant allegedly kept for himself — $6,000 in all, a state Comptroller’s report said.
In April, Comptrollers called out Graysville police after officers seized a car in a drug arrest and used it illegally. According to state Comptroller Justin Wilson, the city’s animal control chief had exclusive use of the car. Police must use any property they obtain during a narcotics arrest for police business only.
In May of last year, Knox County Sheriff’s officers invaded a property where a married couple kept horses and arrested and abused the wife when she asked for a search warrant, according to a federal lawsuit.
Officers arrested the woman, Debbie Buckner, and detained her in a van without air conditioning for up to two hours in May 2015. Buckner nearly lost consciousness, the lawsuit says.
The couple, Debbie Buckner and Mike Sullivan, said animal-control officers seized their horses during an animal-welfare check. Officers said they would only drop charges against them in exchange for a donation to a certain nonprofit for abused and neglected horses, Tennessee Watchdog reported.
The Institute for Justice last year released a study calling Tennessee’s civil forfeiture laws “appalling.”
In an opinion piece, Beacon Center of Tennessee President Justin Owen said “police need a mere preponderance of the evidence to seize your property, which could include cash, your car, or even your home. Yet, they never have to prove to a judge or jury that you committed a crime.”
Owen also said “law enforcement agencies can keep almost all of the proceeds they seize. So they have a major incentive to seize property. The more they seize, the more SUVs, drug dogs, and equipment they can buy. Thus born the term ‘policing for profit.’
No one can say for sure how much gets seized due to minimal reporting requirements for seized property,” Owen said.
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