It looks like this would be considered an early Christmas present for two poker players who had their money unlawfully confiscated while they were driving (with out-of-state plates) through the state of Iowa back in April 2013 as they have now finally settled their lawsuit.
The settlement concludes a horrible nightmare that started with the two of them renting a car to get to a poker tournament in Illinois. Both of them claimed they were victims of "highway robbery." Iowa announced on Monday, December 5, that it agreed to give a $60,000 settlement with California-based poker players named William "Bart" Davis and John Newmerzhycky.
The state also stated it has disbanded its Drug Interdiction Team, which was a small yet crucial step towards potentially solving the issue of people being suddenly pulled over without cause and having their money taken away. Of course, seizures like what happened to the two poker players can still possibly happen in Iowa, but not under the watch of a forfeiture team.
According to law enforcement, the forfeiture team was disbanded because police had to be re-assigned to other duties, and that the decision wasn't due to the unpleasant incident involving Davis and Newmerzhycky.
An investigation from the Des Moines Register showed that through the years, Iowa state and local law enforcement have taken around $55 million in cash from people, and most of them weren't criminally charged. The allegation is that the police officers are abusing civil asset forfeiture.
Police seized $100,020 from Davis and Newmerzhycky in the traffic stop that began because they allegedly failed to use a turn signal. However, video surveillance from the dash cam of the police car confirmed they properly signaled. The poker players insist that the traffic stop was illegal. They did not consent to a vehicle search.
Fortunately, $90,000 of it was returned. (The remainder of the original amount seized, which was $10,020, was divided among state and local law enforcement agencies, often the same ones that are confiscating the money.)
In 2014, the poker players sued for damages and attorney fees (they had to shell out around $30,000 to get the $90,000 back). Overall, they are going to receive $150,000 from the ordeal, minus attorney fees.
According to Davis, the police initially justified keeping the money because they found "0.001 grams" of marijuana in their car. Both he and Newmerzhycky have medical marijuana cards in California. Newmerzhycky later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia.
Newmerzhycky said back in 2014, "They took everything that I owned at that point in my life. My game was just starting to get on point and we decided to take that road trip...Those Iowa cops pretty much put an end to my poker playing too and ruined my life. I had people willing to back me at the time, but after this happened that was all off the table. Basically, I had to move out of my house and be homeless for awhile because I couldn't pay my mortgage. I had to rent out my home."
The two poker players' attorney Glen Downey said, "The true importance of this lawsuit was that it forced the state of Iowa to re-examine its decades-long practice of pushing the constitutional boundaries of the state's civil asset forfeiture law and to disband the Iowa Drug Interdiction Team."