For decades, Detroit police, sheriff’s deputies, and Wayne County prosecutors have used a controversial tactic called civil forfeiture to seize and sell thousands of cars — oftentimes from completely innocent owners.
That's the claim of advocates with the Instutite of Justice, a nonprofit public interest lawfirm that's filed a federal suit against the county over what it calls unconstitutional practices designed to help its bottom line at the expense of drivers.
The firm is representing two Metro Detroit residents whose cars it says were seized in recent years and held for half a year or longer.
From The Detroit News:
In one case, county sheriff’s deputies allegedly took Melisa Ingram’s 2017 Ford Fusion on two occasions when her then-boyfriend borrowed it: first when he allegedly picked up a prostitute and, about six months later, as the man left a barbecue at a home that authorities claimed was “in some way, connected to drugs or prostitution,” according to the filing.
The first time, Ingram paid more than $1,300, including towing and fees, to have it released. The second time, as the single mother faced bankruptcy as a result of the first seizure of her car, the Vehicle Seizure Unit demanded she pay at least $1,800, the suit claims.
“If not for the first seizure of her car, Melisa would not have declared bankruptcy,” the document stated. “The second seizure only compounded her financial problems and led her to release the vehicle to Ford in bankruptcy.
Unlike criminal forfeiture, civil forfeiture does not require the property owner to be charged with a crime. Anyone’s vehicle can be seized if a police officer says they suspect it was connected to one.