On January 31, 2018, a Randolph County sheriff’s deputy showed up at the home of Greg and Teresa Almond in Woodland, Alabama, to serve Greg courtroom papers in a civil rely.
Greg, 50, wasn’t home, but his wife Teresa instructed the deputy he might be back earlier than lengthy. About two hours later, after Greg had returned domestic, he heard loud knocking on the door. He recollects shouting “cling on” and strolling in the direction of the door while it abruptly flew open. The subsequent thing he knew he was at the ground—ears ringing, dazed, thinking if he’d simply been shot.
Several deputies from the Randolph County Sheriff’s Department had kicked in his front door and thrown a flashbang grenade at his toes. The officials handcuffed and detained the couple at gunpoint, then started out searching their house. The deputy from in advance had reportedly smelled marijuana, and so a county drug venture force became descending on the Almonds’ domestic, looking for unlawful pills.
“I’m harassed, I sense violated, I’m wondering the individuals who are presupposed to serve and defend you essentially simply threw a bomb in my lap,” Greg recollects.
One may additionally surprise what sort of risky criminal corporation the Almonds have been going for walks to warrant this kind of display of force. The general drug haul for the Randolph County narcotics unit that day: a small amount of marijuana well worth $50 or much less, which the Almonds’ 27-year-old son later claimed possession of, and one Lunesta drowsing pill discovered outside of a prescription bottle with Greg Almond’s call on it.
The Almonds now face misdemeanor prices for 2nd-degree possession of marijuana for non-public use and ownership of drug paraphernalia (a glass pipe). But that’s a number of the least of their problems.
The Randolph County Sheriff’s Department additionally seized heaps of bucks in coins and valuables from the family, through civil asset forfeiture. Greg Almond says that as a result of the raid and seizures, their enterprise changed into ruined, they lost their house, their popularity was tarnished, and their potential to earn a dwelling has been nearly destroyed.
Now the Almonds are suing. A federal civil rights lawsuit filed last month alleges that the Randolph County Sheriff’s Department illegally seized roughly $eight,000 in cash and dozens of firearms, several which had been antiques, from safes. The raid, the couple argues, violated the Constitution’s protections towards unreasonable seek and seizures in addition to their due technique rights. Police took the cash proper out of his wallet, Almond says. According to the lawsuit, his wife’s wedding ceremony rings, his guitars, and different valuables were lost, had been stolen, or do now not seem on the sheriff branch’s stock of seized items.
The Almonds’ allegations against the Randolph County Sheriff’s Department, first said by using Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, exemplify the worst factors of civil asset forfeiture—the heavy-surpassed use of a tool supposed for major drug traffickers in opposition to petty offenders and harmless proprietors. Cases like these have led Alabama lawmakers to endorse reining inside the state’s forfeiture legal guidelines, which rank most of the maximum competitive and unchecked in the U.S.
It’s tough to say simply how many instances just like the Almonds’ are accessible. Alabama currently does not have any obligatory transparency or reporting necessities surrounding civil forfeiture. Although the Alabama District Attorneys Association announced in advance this yr that it would start voluntarily gathering information and publishing annual reviews at the practice, Carla Crowder, executive director of Appleseed Alabama, says there should be obligatory rules in region.
“Just having the information might allow the general public to understand the sort of stuff that we determined out in our record,” she says. “Are police just taking $1,500 from the houses of human beings they arrest for marijuana possession, which we documented, or are they going after assets that are linked to or the result of criminal interest? Our record suggests they may be now not.”
A 2018 document using Alabama Appleseed observed that country regulation enforcement raked in kind of $2.2 million via civil asset forfeiture in 2015. The document discovered a massive lack of transparency, exposed massive racial disparities, and confirmed that marijuana offenses, like the Almonds’ case, had been a main driving force of forfeiture movements.
The file highlighted the case of Royce Williams, an Alabama resident who his own family says have been developing and the usage of marijuana to manage pain from numerous surgical procedures. He wasn’t a drug dealer, they say. But that failed to matter to neighborhood regulation enforcement, which initiated court complaints to seize the forty acres of belongings that have been in his own family for generations.
Prosecutors persevered in pursuing the belongings even after Williams’ 2009 suicide—a ultimate-ditch attempt to hold it in his own family’s call. Williams’ spouse, struggling with terminal cancer, persevered in fighting in federal court docket and in the end, won, but she went deep into debt within the manner.
In the 2010 case of Frank Ranelli, the police department in Homewood, Alabama, seized one hundred thirty computers from his pc shop, performing on a tip that he was promoting stolen electronics. The sole charge towards Ranelli became in the end disregarded, but he by no means was given the computer systems lower back.
“Here I became, a person, owned this business, been coming to paintings every day like a good vintage guy for 23 years, and I show up at work that morning—I changed into in here doing my books from the day before—and the police just fucked my life,” he tells Al.Com.
Under civil asset forfeiture laws, police can seize property—which includes coins, cars, and even homes—suspected of being related to crook activity, even in instances wherein no one is charged or convicted of against the law. Law enforcement corporations say a civil asset forfeiture is an important tool that lets in police to disrupt drug trafficking and other prepared crime with the aid of targeting their illicit proceeds. But civil liberties corporations say it has some distance too few protections for harmless assets owners and too many perverse incentives for police.
Last week, an Alabama Senate committee advanced a bill that would require police and prosecutors to achieve a criminal conviction before seized belongings might be forfeited to the state. Misdemeanor costs, like those leveled in opposition to the Almonds, wouldn’t be eligible for forfeiture either.
“I’d like to see it in which no one else might have to go through some thing like this,” Greg Almond says. “It might be one factor if I were jogging some kind of drug agency or some thing, however it is simply not the case.”
Following the raid, the Almonds—both of whom had no previous arrest document, in line with their lawsuit—have been booked in a single day and lots of the following day inside the county prison. Their quite quick incarceration had a massive impact on their lives.
In addition to a tombstone engraving business that they had inherited, the Almonds have been raising chickens. Large fowl groups frequently settlement with independent farmers to elevate chickens, however the commercial enterprise, at the least for the farmers, is notoriously hard. The corporations offer the chicks and feed. However the contract grower has to construct the hen houses, often requiring massive loans.
Before the raid, the Almonds have been in a financially precarious spot. The rooster manufacturer they reduced in size with required them to alternate their hen homes earlier than it might send them any more magnificent birds, so they lost an entire 12 months of bills even as they were making the upgrades. They had already mortgaged their house and sixteen acres of belongings to start their farm.
The Almonds had been within the system of refinancing their loans to attempt to live afloat. However the deadline to refinance took place to be the same day they were caught in jail. As an result in their incarceration, the Almonds neglected the closing date. A month later, their financial institution foreclosed on their residence.