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Alan Clemmons (left) MB Councilwoman Mary Jeffcoat (right)

Why The Civil Asset Forfeiture Bill Went Sideways

Last Month, MyrtleBeachSC news covered the investigative report put out by the Greenville News. See it here: https://myrtlebeachsc.com/taken-usa-today-reports-82-mbpd-seizures-of-black-peoples-property/.

The report exposes how local government police forces and sheriffs offices are taking millions of dollars in asset seizures without charging anyone with a crime. Reason.com covered this same article and explained how South Carolina police seized more than $17 million over a three-year period.

Representative Smeared By Press?

When we published our report, Representative Alan Clemmons took to social media and stated he had been working on this for years. A press conference was soon called in Columbia featuring Clemmons among other state legislators. Clemmons promised to pass new legislation to end this injustice.

However, Fitsnews reported days later that Mr. Clemmons applied for the job opening for Myrtle Beach City Atttorney. That article turned out to be true. Mr. Clemmons is one of four candidates applying for that job.

ROGUE CITY GOVERNMENT LOBBYING

The City of Myrtle Beach then came out full force in the local press stating through Myrtle Beach Police Chief Amy Prock: State civil forfeiture law may be damaging to local law enforcement, police chief says

NOW THIS

On April 4th, State Representative District 38, Josiah Magnuson took to Facebook writing, “What a travesty. I regret to inform you that the civil asset forfeiture bill (H3307 as previously amended) which was passed by a huge margin in the House was “reconsidered” by House leadership and an amendment was passed to essentially strip the bill of real meaning and instead do a study committee on the issue.”

The House leadership Magnuson speaks of is none other than Alan Clemmons. Representative Clemmons gutted his own bill. Why? What happened? (see bottom of page)

One Rogue City, One Bad Council Woman, One Good Representative

After the bill was gutted, local Representative Rusell Fry took to social media as well. Wrote Representative Russel Fry, S.C House District 106, “I expected resistance from law enforcement on this bill. They don’t support the bill – understood. And I have been open with them in discussing the issue and trying to find common ground, if possible. I believe they recognize there exists a large issue. I support their work tremendously, but right now, on portions of this legislation we do disagree.

And I’m sorry that councilwoman Mary Jeffcoat from MB finds my support for the Constitution disturbing. I find it more unsettling that she is so willing to ignore the rights of our citizens in exchange for a few dollars. Money should not trump constitutional guarantees.

Disappointed as well that My Horry News never thought about at least asking any of the 80% of legislators who support reforms to respond before painting a truly one sided piece that absolutely fails to understand the issue.

In any event, if I was asked by the “news media”, here would be my response: the 5th amendment to our Constitution guarantees that you cannot be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. 40% of all asset forfeiture cases result in either NO criminal charges or the criminal charges being dismissed. Yet the property is often not returned. Think about that for a moment. Your money is taken, you aren’t charged, and you NEVER get back your money, car, house, or asset.

40% is not a few bad apples, as described by in the “news” article. Only if you’re savvy enough or wealthy enough are you able to get it back. Many don’t, obviously which is why that 40% is so disturbing. Additionally, the standards of proof are vastly different in civil courts. Asset forfeiture should be in criminal courts, period. It is far too easy to take property in the civil realm. You don’t answer an incredibly time sensitive and confusing lawsuit? The government just takes your property with virtually NO due process. You shouldn’t have to make a “claim” for your property when it is seized wrongly, and if you don’t or don’t understand how you never get it back (per the article, MB does this).

And finally, police serve an executive branch function at their core – by enforcing the laws. They should not therefore have legislative functions over the power of the purse. Having both the power of the sword and the power of the purse invites abuse. Local governments, councils, or legislatures, who routinely appropriate money to police functions, should be appropriating any lawfully seized assets. By retaining these assets, without review and appropriation through a budget process, civil forfeiture invites the “policing for profit” motive and leads to abuse.”

LEGALLY STEALING

Tourists who visit the city of Myrtle Beach are told by police officers, if you simply surrender your (cash – or valuable asset taken), no charges will be filed and you won’t have to show back up in court. The seizures are often under $300 in cash or cash value.

As those same tourists need to be back on the job in OH, NY, PA, etc on Monday morning, surrendering the money is easier and usually cheaper than coming back to Myrtle Beach and fighting for their legal rights in court.

Say other legislators including Russell Fry and Magnuson: No crime, no charges, no justice. and the city of Myrtle Beach is enriched by the entire process.

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About David Hucks

Born in 1961, David is a 12th generation descendant of the area we now call Myrtle Beach, S.C. David attended Coastal Carolina University and like most of his family, has never left the area. David is the lead journalist at MyrtleBeachSC.com

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