By Tim Farley, News Editor – Canadian County deputies seized more than $500,000 in cash, several vehicles and more than 120 pounds of marijuana during 2017, according to an annual report released by Sheriff Chris West.
The confiscated cash, cars and drugs were the direct result of narcotics investigations, traffic stops and information obtained from confidential informants.
“We were very proactive last year,” West said. “We seized a lot of drugs that were part of criminal enterprises. By seizing the drugs and cash, we are using their assets against them.”
The largest amount of cash seized at one time was $263,400 during a May 10 traffic stop. West did not have details in that case. The largest marijuana bust occurred late in 2017 when deputies stopped a vehicle on Interstate 40 and pulled 115 pounds of marijuana from a 2015 motor home.
Deputies seized five vehicles and 121 pounds of marijuana for the entire year, the report shows. In addition, deputies and investigators collected 31 pounds of Fentanyl and 867 THC vape cartridges.
West acknowledged that all of the asset forfeiture cases are “moving forward” as the district attorney reviews the seizure and if the property and cash was confiscated according to state law. Law enforcement agencies are not entitled to the property or money until a judge makes a final award. That decision may be delayed if the property owner contests the seizure.
In the past, Oklahoma’s civil asset forfeiture laws have come under scrutiny because of abuse by lawmen. Former Sen. Kyle Loveless introduced legislation in 2016 to reform the process, but the proposals came under sharp attack from district attorneys, police and sheriffs, including West who represented the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association.
“I’m not opposed to reforms. I’m always for trying to make things better,” the sheriff said. “But if you’re going to tell me there are loopholes in the system that allow for abuse, show me those loopholes. Where are they?”
When he was still in the Senate, Loveless contended the asset forfeiture laws favored law enforcement over innocent property owners. In some instances statewide, large amounts of cash were taken from property owners who had the money in their possession for legal reasons.
Asset forfeiture reformers argued property owners would have to spend more in attorney fees trying to recover the property than the property was worth. In those instances, innocent property owners would not fight to reclaim their cash or cars.
“I’m 350 percent about protecting law-abiding citizens,” West said. “But all of the seizures from 2017 are legitimate. I don’t believe there is widespread abuse in law enforcement, and certainly not at the Canadian County Sheriff’s Office. I think what we have with asset forfeiture in Oklahoma is a good tool and the vast majority of agencies do it right. If there are some instances of abuse, you don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”
Civil asset forfeiture reform proposals have been silenced since Loveless resigned from the Senate.