7/16/2015Nevada: Government Must Pay For Taking Cash From Innocent Motorist
Government will pay the $153,002 legal bill racked up by a motorist whose cash was illegally taken during a traffic stop.
A motorist passing through Nevada had all of his cash taken, legally, by a Elko County sheriff's deputy. This week, lawyers for Straughn Gorman presented the bill for legal costs that the government owes for illegally stopping and searching Gorman's 2001 Trail-Lite motorhome and grabbing the $167,070 he was carrying.
Last month, US District Judge Larry R. Hicks blasted prosecutors for only telling "half of the story" to obtain the search warrant that uncovered the cash. On Monday, federal prosecutors blasted Gorman for asking them to foot the entire $153,002 legal bill that he had been forced to pay to recover his $167,070. The scathing review of the case from Judge Hicks suggests Gorman will get back every penny.
Gorman's troubles began on January 23, 2013 as he drove on Interstate 80 on his way to California in his white motorhome. Deputy Doug Fisher claimed he saw the motorhome "drift to the right" and it had a partially closed side curtain, so he pulled Gorman over. A drug dog alerted on the vehicle. When Gorman refused a search, Deputy Fisher called a Justice of the Peace Brian E. Boatman to obtain a warrant to search the motorhome.
"The driver indicated he had no job," Deputy Fisher told the judge. "And upon an EPIC [El Paso Intelligence Center] check it was informaed the driver had multiple border crossings with the most recent in 2012 from Madrid, Spain into the United States. Secondly, it was informed the subject transferred $11,000 in cash to another subject with an unknown name."
Based on this, and no other evidence, Deputy Fisher explained that he believed there narcotics would be found in the motorhome. The search took place 42 minutes after the traffic stop had begun, and nothing illegal was found.
Judge Hicks took note of many inconsistencies in the deputy's testimony. Most prominently, the dashcam video of the stop, and Deputy Fisher's own arrest report, establishes that Gorman told the officer he owned a paddleboard company in Hawaii -- he was not unemployed, as the deputy claimed. The video also fails to show Deputy Fisher performing the claimed records check.
Judge Hicks took note of this, and called out Assistant US Attorney Greg Addington for failing to mention in any of his briefs that Nevada State Trooper Greg Monroe had stopped Gorman an hour before Deputy Fisher's traffic stop. The trooper is the one who performed the EPIC records check and communicated the results to Deputy Fisher saying he believed the motorhome was headed westbound carrying money and that a drug dog was needed to justify a search.
"The court is disappointed that the United States would aggressively pursue this forfeiture action while all of its moving documents for summary judgment and supporting affidavits contained material omissions concerning the history leading to the traffic stop and canine sniff at issue," Judge Hicks wrote. "The government's nondisclosure of the information regarding Monroe's initial stop is troublesome for many reasons, but certainly because the relationship between the two stops is so obviously relevant to the legal issues before the court.... Gorman is undoubtedly the successful party here... The seized funds shall be returned to Gorman, or his designee, within thirty days of the entry of this order."
Throughout the case, Gorman refused to answer the government's questions about the source of the money. He said he was under no obligation to submit to their questioning. A copy of the June decision is available in a 200k PDF file at the source link below.