"The Police Just F**ked My Life" - Alabamians Outraged As Civil Asset Forfeitures Soar

The morning of June 29, 2010, began much like any other day for Frank Ranelli, the owner of FAR Computers in Ensley, Alabama. Ranelli, who had owned his computer repair business just outside of Birmingham for more than two decades, was doing some paperwork in his windowless office when he heard loud banging on the front door.  Within a matter of moments Ranelli was placed under arrest and all of the computer equipment in his store, much of which belonged to customers, had been confiscated by Alabama police never to be returned.  Per AL.com:

Within moments, a Homewood police sergeant had declared a room full of customers' computers, merchandise and other items "stolen goods," Ranelli recalled. He ordered his officers to "arrest them all," according to Ranelli, who was cuffed and taken to the Homewood jail along with two of his shop employees.


The police proceeded to confiscate more than 130 computers - most of which were customers' units waiting to be repaired, though some were for sale - as well as the company's business servers and workstations and even receipts and checkbooks.


"Here I was, a man, owned this business, been coming to work every day like a good old guy for 23 years, and I show up at work that morning - I was in here doing my books from the day before - and the police just f***ed my life," he said.

Nothing ever came of the case. The single charge levied against Renelli of receiving stolen goods was dismissed after he demonstrated that he had followed proper protocol in purchasing the sole laptop computer he was accused of receiving illegally. That said, despite no official charges and no jury trial, Ranelli has been trying, to no avail, for nearly 7 years now to recover the items the officers took from his business.


Rick Hightower had a similar experience with Alabama police when he was a student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.  After being arrested for "lewd behavior" at a college party in 2008, Hightower says police raided his apartment and confiscated as much as $200,000 worth of musical instruments and other property.  Despite never being charged with stealing the property, Hightower says police have refused to return any of the confiscated items. 

On April 13, 2008, he was arrested and initially charged with lewd behavior after police said he was caught exposing himself at Samford University in Birmingham, according to court filings. Hightower, who has a fairly extensive rap sheet, was ultimately convicted of indecent exposure and resisting arrest in connection with that incident.


Five days after his arrest, officers with the Homewood and UAB police departments raided Hightower's apartment, executing a warrant to search for files, cameras and any other evidence related to the incident at Samford.


They also decided to seize "a large amount of property believed to be stolen," including "musical instruments, electronics and other items," according to a UAB Police Department report on the search.


As such, Hightower was charged with receiving stolen property. He was never charged with stealing any of the other items that were seized from his apartment, and was not convicted of stealing the English horn, as he provided a receipt that showed that he had purchased the item from a thrift store.


And yet the Homewood Police Department - which stored and ostensibly continues to store the items seized in the raid - did not return the horn or any other items to Hightower. More than nine years later, he has yet to even lay eyes on any of the possessions that were taken from him.

Unfortunately, the raids on Ranelli's business and Hightower's apartment are not isolated incidents. They are just a couple of many similar cases that have taken place in Alabama and across the U.S. in recent years, according to Joseph Tully, a California criminal lawyer with expertise in civil asset forfeitures.

Long used in major criminal busts as a means to confiscate money and possessions obtained by illegal means, civil asset forfeiture impacts thousands of Americans each year and has become the subject of intense national and local scrutiny over the past decade.


The ability of law enforcement agencies to use such tactics to take people's assets and property almost at will "lends itself to abuse," Tully, who describes cases like Ranelli's as "theft," said.


"It's really hard to fight the system. If it was a private citizen who stole your things, you could go get your things, or in the olden days you could get your shotgun and pay the thief a visit and say, 'give me my stuff back.' But you can't do that in this case because it's the police."


In fiscal year 2016, law enforcement agencies in Alabama seized more than $2.2 million worth of "assets that represent the proceeds of, or were used to facilitate federal crimes," according to its annual report to Congress. In fiscal 2014, the total value of such assets seized by law enforcement in the state was more than $4.9 million.

That recent drop is the local manifestation of a nationwide reduction in the use of civil asset forfeiture as public awareness and outcry over its widespread use has grown in recent years, according to experts. The tactic is still regularly deployed, impacting dozens of Alabamians each year. But the tide is turning. Fourteen states, from New Mexico to Connecticut, have passed laws in recent years to stop police from seizing property absent a criminal conviction.

"The pendulum is starting to swing but I wouldn't say that it has been swinging back the other way for too long," Tully said. "State and local governments are starting to act ... Law enforcement officers are coming around a bit and there's a little bit of a curb in police doing whatever they want."


And on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo directing a deputy to establish a unit aimed at ensuring there are no abuses of a federal policy reinstated by Sessions in July to help state and local law enforcement agencies seize accused criminals' property.


Alabama's laws, however, still provide the state's citizens with few protections from the practices, earning the state a "D- for its civil asset forfeiture laws" in a November 2015 report by the Institute for Justice, a Virginia nonprofit advocacy law firm.


Alabama laws stack the deck against victims of asset forfeiture by establishing a "low bar to forfeit" and not requiring a conviction to do so; offering "limited protections for innocent third-party property owners"; and letting "100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement," the report stated.

The irony here, of course, is that we live in a country where the police can show up to any "Regular Joe's" apartment on any given day and legally confiscate all of his stuff but James Comey couldn't even manage to interview a material witness in the Hillary email investigation without first granting them an immunity deal.  Seems fair...


Future Jim Bes Fri, 10/20/2017 - 20:27 Permalink

I have been reading about civil asset forfeiture since 1990, so why is the controlled opposition suddenly talking about it so much? They are trying to incite folks on so many fronts lately about issues that have been around for decades.

In reply to by Bes

toady DownWithYogaPants Sat, 10/21/2017 - 11:28 Permalink

Ever since I started seeing this stuff I've wondered why some lawyer doesn't try to "make their bones" on this stuff. Some young gun, or even the ACLU, or Alred, or the conservative/Republican version, could build a major law firm winning damages on cases like these... do it pro-bono a couple times, then start making some big bucks actually helping people.Oh, wait, there it is right there. The government, lawyers, judges, etc., don't help people, they fuck people over!

In reply to by DownWithYogaPants

LightBeamCowboy Future Jim Sat, 10/21/2017 - 10:59 Permalink

I was talking with a liberal couple at a potluck barbecue last summer and mentioned civil asset forfeiture along with the words "police state". The gentleman, a retired USAF officer and no dummy, became visibly angry, denying that any such activity was going on. I invited him to look it up online, but he probably didn't. This is the fake news MSM striking again, with a large swath of the population completely unaware that the "nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law" clause of the 5th Amendment is being systematically violated, wholesale, without any judge standing up for The People. All three branches of government were fine with our police forces being turned into pirates rather than go through the legal political process of raising taxes to fund them. For all of the Drug Warriors out there, we told you 30~40 years ago that this was where your Drug War was headed, but you wouldn't listen. Drug dens today, computer repair shops tomorrow. We are so fucked.

In reply to by Future Jim

MoreFreedom Future Jim Sat, 10/21/2017 - 12:23 Permalink

Perhaps because people are getting more and more fed up with government abuse?   I'd say a lot fo conservatives, myself included, are getting fed up with people in govenrment getting away with abuse, such as what Obama did with the IRS, or what Clinton did with her server/email crimes (with those emails likely stolen by Putin and used by him to blackmail both Obama and Clinton).  The people in government are like sharks that give the other sharks professional courtesy letting them break the law, but not the citizens.Civil asset forfeiture should be abolished, regardless of who's in office.  If you want to blame somone, Reagan is as good as anyone considering it was under his watch that the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 expanded it's use. 

In reply to by Future Jim

JRobby Future Jim Sat, 10/21/2017 - 16:29 Permalink

Because funding cuts at state, county and local levels require "supplemental" funding now because reducing the size and salaries of the fifedoms and police state is an unacceptable outcome. The early implementation of these laws that you refer to was to impound assets from drug traffickers and financial scamsters.NOW, IT IS USED ON EVERYONE. 

In reply to by Future Jim

hardmedicine Bes Fri, 10/20/2017 - 20:25 Permalink

I am completely demoralized by the lack of prosecution of Massive Corruption by our now Republican president, congress, senate and Attorney General.  I have given up hope for any semblence of the rule of law to return to this country.i'm in the process of trying to get way way off the grid.....and get very very small 

In reply to by Bes

any_mouse hardmedicine Fri, 10/20/2017 - 20:40 Permalink

The years from 1989 until 2017 did not give you a clue?

R-D-D-R-R-D-D. Same shit, different Parties.

War, more war. Greed, more greed. Loss of freedom and natural rights, loss of privacy.

Everything that wasn't a geographic feature was shipped overseas. The geographic features were sold to Corporations.

A rogue actor making their way into the White House to change things?

A dromedary passing through the eye of a needle has better odds.

Maybe Trump will name Dr. Ron Paul as FED Chair. Wouldn't that be Awesome!

In reply to by hardmedicine

LightBeamCowboy hardmedicine Sat, 10/21/2017 - 11:08 Permalink

Your choice to "get small" is much more widespread than most imagine. The working assumption has been that a police state tyranny can be imposed on Americans with no economic consequences, that we will continue to work and spend as if nothing has happened. I beg to differ: labor participation rate at record lows; money velocity at record lows. Millions of Americans are in a state of quiet, prolonged general strike.

In reply to by hardmedicine

Déjà view Blue Steel 309 Fri, 10/20/2017 - 22:33 Permalink

Duress works wonders...

They could face felony charges for “money laundering” and “child endangerment,” in which case they would go to jail and their children would be handed over to foster care. Or they could sign over their cash to the city of Tenaha, and get back on the road. “No criminal charges shall be filed,” a waiver she drafted read, “and our children shall not be turned over to CPS,” or Child Protective Services.

In reply to by Blue Steel 309

FreeNewEnergy Blue Steel 309 Sat, 10/21/2017 - 06:55 Permalink

Speaking of such, there is a gun grab this weekend in Rochester, NY, sponsored by our glorious, eternal Attorney General, Eric Schniederman. Bring us your guns, no questions asked (b-b-b-but what are those cameras up there for?), and we'll give you Wegman's gift cards in return.Is this the current iteration of "guns and butter?" Maybe it should be "guns for butter."Bottom line, in the NY gulag, they don't take your guns, you give them away for food coupons.What a plan. They'll have 15-30 cops there, all on the public dime, for four hours, plus planning and staging time, to get maybe 30 guns "off the street."In the meantime, NY, under the guidance of imperial douch-bag mob-boss-wannabe Andrew Cuomo, has prepared four proposals for which to lure Amazon to build a second HQ in the state, complete with mammoth tax incentives.I hate NY so much I'm not leaving just to spite the mutherfuckers.

In reply to by Blue Steel 309

kamikun tmosley Fri, 10/20/2017 - 19:51 Permalink

Just speculating here.. but how long do you think it's going to be before police execute a similar raid on some PM stacker, with no formal charges, and summarily confiscate his 50 ounces of gold? Regardless of whether you can produce a paper trail, the state makes the confiscatee take on all the legal burdens and costs to TRY and get back their property. Even if successful, attorney and filing fees will eat up more than 80% of the value of those 50 ounces. Crypto is one hedge you should employ to protect yourself, along with other diversifications.And fuck civil asset forfeiture... it is a cockpunch to the basic idea of property rights. And without those, the rest of the constitution is meaningless.

In reply to by tmosley

kamikun jimmy c korn Fri, 10/20/2017 - 20:28 Permalink

OK, I'll bite...If the Fly (or the Puerto Rician mentioned below) had some of their wealth in crypto, then they could find an internet link (any would do... even just a feature phone or at a RED Cross Station), go to Expedia or anothe travel agent that takes bitcoin, book passage off the island and pay for a hotel anywhere in the world....

In reply to by jimmy c korn

toady Rickety Rekt Sat, 10/21/2017 - 11:54 Permalink

Exactly. Can't have all your eggs in one basket. I hope all these crypto guys are aware... but most of their comments lean towards "crypto and only crypto".Puerto Rico is a very good example. If you only have a crypto backup plan, you've been starving for a couple weeks now (based on what you had in your fridge when the storm hit... if you only had a sixpack and some mustard packs, you've been relying on the generosity of others or you'd be dead by now), and you're still waiting for electricity and a terminal, and may be for a few more months as the local unions delay recovery while they try to milk more concessions out of the local government(s).

In reply to by Rickety Rekt