Thursday, June 17, 2010

$75,000 price tag on unconstitutional detention of and seizure of cash from Carmina Perez on I-40

On July 22, 2008, the same day this story about Juana Villegas ran on, Carmina Perez and her ten year old son Raphael Adame were driving from Nashville to visit Perez's sick mother in Texas and her father-in-law in Mexico, who was also ill.  Perez is a native of Mexico and permanent resident of the United States, having lived in this country over thirty years.  She and her husband own Tex-Mex Cleaning Service, a business that cleans homes and offices.

While Perez and her son were still driving down I-40 in Tennessee, barely outside of Nashville, they were pulled over for allegedly following too closely to another vehicle.  The traffic stop lasted three-and-a-half hours.

The person who pulled Perez over was Deputy Ricky Wade of the Henry County Sheriff's Department, which is where Paris is.  Wade happened to be a member of a regional drug task force, so he asked Perez if he could search the vehicle.  Perez consented.  Wade asked Perez if she was carrying drugs.  Perez said no, and Wade ran his drug dog around the car, finding no drugs, drug paraphernalia, or weapons.  Wade asked Perez if she was carrying currency, and Perez said yes - about $14,000 to pay for her mother's and father-in-law's medical care.

Wade says he became suspicious of the source and destination of the money when he learned that Perez had been accused of and cleared of a drug crime at one point; that her paper trail identified her alternately by her maiden name and also her second surname, which Wade considered to be aliases; and that she had changed her social security number once, which Perez said was because she had been a victim of identity theft.  He didn't believe her that the money was from her cleaning business and was going to her parents' health care.

So, even though he didn't charge her with any crime, Wade took the $14,869.00 from Perez.

Perez got legal representation (Brentwood's Craft & Sheppard, P.L.C.) and sued in September 2008.  The justice system took less than two years to provide Perez with legal vindication, the return of her money, plus an additional $75,000 in damages.

On March 3, 2009, an administrative judge ruled in Perez's favor, and ordered the return of her money.  Then, on May 14, 2010, federal jurors in Jackson said that Wade violated Perez's constitutional right to be free from unlawful detention (on the side of the road for over three hours) following the conclusion of the traffic stop, and that the seizure of the money was a violation of her constitutional right to be free from unlawful seizure of money from her vehicle.

The jury awarded Perez and her son $75,000 for these violations of their constitutional rights.

Noteworthy is that Perez won on her Fourth Amendment claim, which is based on
 [t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures
Perez's Fourteenth Amendment selective enforcement claim, that "her money was seized and she was detained for a long period of time because she was Hispanic," was dismissed before it got to the jury because of a lack of evidence that "similarly situated persons outside her category were not prosecuted."

Perez's request that Wade be taken off duty was also denied, because she could not show that she herself would be affected by Wade's continued performance of his duties as-is.

In a quote published by the Paris Post-Intelligencer, Wade's boss, Henry County Sheriff Monte Belew, seemed to say both that Wade did make a mistake and that Wade didn't make a mistake:
"We apologize for this and will try not to make the same mistake twice," Belew said. "We do respect the court's decision, however we do not agree with it. This department stands behind Deputy Wade 110 percent and do support him."
I contacted Belew, who initially indicated that he would be available to clarify, but then he failed to further respond.

The AP reported on this story, but the local journalist who gave it the most air time was WSMV's Demetria Kalodimos, in her stories here, here, and here.

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