If someone with a gun stops you and takes your money, you would you call police. But what if the person taking your money also has a badge?
California resident Tan Nguyen won $60,000 from a Las Vegas casino. On his way back home Humboldt County Deputy Lee Dove stopped Nguyen on I-80 near Winnemucca, Nevada for driving three-miles over the speed limit.
Dove, a trained narcotics interdiction agent, knows that accusing someone of drug trafficking is all that’s required to walk away with their money and property. The policy enables him to do this is known as ‘civil asset forfeiture.’
Dove immediately stated that he smelled drugs, which gave him legal cause to search Nguyen’s car. From the deputy’s dash cam video recording:
“I just smelled weed. I know I did. I know I smelled weed,” he said as he returned to his cruiser.
“That’s not yours, is it?” asked Dove.
“That’s mine,” Nguyen responded.
“Well, I’m seizing it,” the deputy declared.
The first issue is whether Dove obtained permission to search the car or whether he simply told the driver, Tan Nguyen, he was going to do it.
“Well, I’m gonna search that vehicle first, ok?” Dove asks.
Nguyen challenges the deputy, “Hey, what’s the reason you’re searching my car?”
“Because I’m talking to you …I don’t have to explain that to you. I’m not going to explain that to you, but I am gonna put my drug dog on that,” as he points to money. “If my dog alerts, I’m seizing the money. You can try to get it back but you’re not.”
Nguyen: (inaudible) got it in Vegas.”
“Good luck proving it. Good luck proving it. You’ll burn it up in attorney fees before we give it back to you.”
Dove however never seizes the money under state forfeiture law, instead he offers Nguyen a deal: abandon the cash and leave with the cashiers’ checks otherwise, he’ll confiscate the cash anyway and tow the car because Nguyen’s name isn’t on the rental agreement.
“It’s your call,” Dove tells Nguyen. “If you want to walk away, you can take the cashiers checks, the car and everything and you can bolt and you’re on your way. But you’re gonna be walking away from this money and abandoning it.”
“I don’t have all day to sit here debating it,” Dove insisted.” You need to give me a decision what you want to do.”
Nguyen protested that the officer had no right to rob him. But Deputy Dove reminded him that government theft is legal in a police state.
“Everyday I do this,” said the Deputy Dove. “It’s all I do for a living. It’s drug interdiction and I get money. The only reason why you have that cash is because it’s related to some sort of illegal activity. You know it and I know it.”
“I don’t have to prove my case on the side of the road. Ok, I don’t have to prove that all right? You can take these and the car and the luggage and your written warning and you proceed and I will give you a receipt for the money and you abandon it and you walk away and you chalk it up to don’t do this no more, all right? That is what it amounts to,” Dove told Nguyen.
After taking the cash, Dove forced Nguyen to sign a document stating that he was “abandoning the money,” and then let him leave.
Dove never issued a speeding ticket or warning. In fact, Nguyen was never charged with a crime at all.
After he got home Nguyen cashed his $10,000 in cashier checks and used the money to hire a lawyer to get the rest of his money back. Thankfully, he was successful in recovering the stolen money.
The controversial drug interdiction stops have since been suspended and Nevada’s Attorney General, Catherine Cortez Masto called in to review the practice.
“The public confidence has eroded in the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office. I want the citizens that we serve to know we are lawful. Therefore, I contacted the Nevada Attorney General’s Office to ask for an independent review of our program,” Sheriff Ed Kilgore said.
Kilgore added that departmental guidelines were not followed and claims he thought the cases were being sent to the district attorney’s office. Meanwhile, Dove is still on duty, patrolling I-80.