Californian poker players win forfeiture abuse case in Iowa

TAGs: California, Iowa, John Newmerzhycky, William Davis

A pair of California poker players has won their civil court case after Iowan State Troopers robbed them of $100,000 in cash during a routine traffic stop in 2013.

Our cash may be coated in semen, urine and over 3,000 types of different bacteria. Exposure to it may cause acne, gastric ulcers, pneumonia and food poisoning. But we love it so much, if you take it away from us, we get quite upset. And in Iowa, the State Troopers just love taking it away from people.

Californian Poker Players Win Forfeiture Abuse Case in IowaIn 2013, poker players William Davis and John Newmerzhycky were driving through the Hawkeye State after a productive visit to a World Series of Poker Circuit (WSOPC) event in Joliet when two State Troopers searched the vehicle and found $100,000 in cash. The two poker players would have to wait another three years before they saw it again.

Troopers, Justin Simmons and Eric VanderWiel, conducted the search without a warrant. They took the cash because the law allowed them to. They didn’t even have to offer an explanation, although they did state that they thought the money had a drug connection after one of the poker players was found to have a toke of weed.

The pair would later tell the court that they pulled the car over – which was bearing California licence plates – because it had failed to properly signal when changing lanes. The dashboard camera in the patrol vehicle showed this to be a lie. It’s believed the pair deliberately targeted the car because it was out of state in the hope of seizing money or goods.

The two poker players were in no mood to leave their bag of cash in the hands of Iowa State Troopers.

They sued.

They won.

Sort of.

Officials have ruled in favour of the poker players three years after the case began. A significant factor in the triumph was a 2015 case between Rodriguez v, the United States, where the Supreme Court ruled that police cannot prolong a traffic stop unless there is a clear reason to suspect the car may contain contraband.

$90,000 of the $100,000 had already been returned to the pair, but the court agreed they should receive an additional $60,000 for their troubles. If you deduct the $10,000 the police kept for no reason at all, and take into consideration the $30,000 in court costs the pair had to stump up, then they both gained $10,000 each over a three year period.

It doesn’t take a genius to see why over a period of three years between 2009 & 2013, Iowa State Police managed to rob people of $16 million via the same means, with over $5.6m seized in 2011 alone.

My intuition tells me that the fact the law enforcement officers keep any money taken during these raids – minus a 10% cut that heads the way of the Iowa County Attorneys Association (ICAA) – may be one of the reasons they stop people so often.


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