Stand and Deliver in Tenaha

For those who like to pretend that the government can be trusted to do the right thing, I offer this Houston Chronicle article about black drivers driving through the town of Tenaha, Texas, near the Louisiana line, being pulled over and shaken down:

Law enforcement authorities in this East Texas town of 1,000 people seized property from at least 140 motorists between 2006 and 2008, and, to date, filed criminal charges against fewer than half, according to a San Antonio Express-News review of court documents.

Virtually anything of value was up for grabs: cash, cell phones, personal jewelry, a pair of sneakers, and often, the very car that was being driven through town. Some affidavits filed by officers relied on the presence of seemingly innocuous property as the only evidence that a crime had occurred. 

. . . .

[Shelby County District Attorney Lynda Kay Russell] made legal agreements with some individuals that her office would not file criminal charges so long as the property owner waived all rights to the valuables.

According to the lawsuit (PDF of complaint) filed in U.S. District Court, officers would stop non-white motorists for no legal reason, order them out of their cars, search their cars, call out dogs to search the cars, find nothing, interrogate the motorists, ask them if they had any money, seize the money, arrest them for “money laundering”, and then threaten to hold them prisoner and prosecute them for money laundering unless they would agree to forfeit the money.

Let’s try to count the felonies being committed here. Theft, robbery, aggravated robbery, extortion, bribery, kidnapping and aggravated kidnapping — I count seven and I’m sure I’m missing a few. None of them will be prosecuted, of course, because the actors hold public office.

Surely there’s a good policy reason for allowing these cops and this prosecutor to do things that would land an ordinary citizen in prison for a long long time?

Tenaha Mayor George Bowers, 80, defended the seizures, saying they allowed a cash-poor city the means to add a second police car in a two-policeman town and help pay for a new police station. “It’s always helpful to have any kind of income to expand your police force,” Bowers said.

The old “it allows us to expand our police force” rationale, often invoked in favor of speed traps (and in a way this is a really ambitious speed trap). That’s very nice, but it raises this question: why does a town half the size of Mayberry need two Barney Fifes, much less two patrol cars? Is a larger police force its own justification? Is it like the anti-cocaine ad from the 80s, “We jack travelers, so we can buy more patrol cars, so we can jack more travelers . . .”

Well, no . . .

Local police, [Mayor Bowers] said, must take aggressive action to stem the drug trade that flows through town via U.S. 59. “No doubt about it. (Highway 59) is a thoroughfare that a lot of no-good people travel on. They take the drugs and sell it and take the money and go right back into Mexico,” said Bowers, who has been Tenaha’s mayor for 54 years.

Of course! When the government in a racist sinkhole of a Texas town is caught behaving like a third-world warlord, setting up a roadblock and demanding tribute from people passing through its territory, what better justification than the War on Drugs? America’s voters are perfectly content to give up their freedom, to say nothing of the freedom of their friends and neighbors, to support a metaphorical war against an imaginary enemy.

The legislature is talking about forfeiture reform, but it seems to me that the People hold the immediate solution to this particular problem: if you must drive through Shelby County, Texas, don’t spend any money. Tank up in Garrison to the south or Carthage to the north. Don’t buy gas at Hooker Texaco or Swint’s Self Services. Don’t eat at the Snack Shack or the Chicken House or the Whistle Stop Restaurant. Don’t hesitate to stop at one of those businesses — to use the restroom, for example — but don’t spend a dime.

Let the businesses in Shelby County join the innocent motorists in paying for the greed of their government, and they will change it.

About Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett got his letter of marque from the Supreme Court of Texas in May 1995. He is famous for having no sense of humor when it comes to totalitarianism.
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16 Responses to Stand and Deliver in Tenaha

  1. Pingback: Treating Police Officers As Human Beings | Fresno Criminal Defense

  2. Pingback: mySA.com: Police seize property, cash from out-of-towners driving through Tenaha | Texas Watchdog

  3. Clint Davidson says:

    While on a recent trip to court in Cass County I passed through Tenaha on inauguration day.
    I decided NOT to stop there for anything. It may have been the McCain/Palin signs that were still up or just the unfriendly vibe of the town itself. Then I passed a business later in Cass County where a garrison sized rebel flag was flying out front. It was truly a dark and strange journey.

  4. Benisha Rodgers says:

    I am very appalled at this story. I grew up and graduated High School from Tenaha and I just cannot believe that you would say we are a racist town. Half the people of Tenaha are black. Just look at our football, basketball teams. As I recall there are many white people supporting these different groups at every game. Get your facts straight. I cannot believe that you are suggesting that Tenaha only stops black people. I think you are stirring a pot that’s too thick for you!!

    • SFA Student says:

      Getting facts straight is something that the previous poster may have needed to do. The estimated half of the Tenaha population that is black are not the same people that are writing, enacting, and enforcing policy. How many black members are there on the City Council. The majority of black citizen in Tenaha are below the poverty level, and they rent. I’m sure I’ll have to explain the significance of that… They do not pay taxes to the city. I’m not saying that poor black people are bad. I’m just saying that the ones you’re saying aren’t racist aren’t the ones being written about in the above story.

  5. Pingback: Forfeiture: “Police Departments Addicted to ‘Dirty Money’”

  6. copsneedMoney2 says:

    Where’s the article now?

  7. SFA Student says:

    The patrol cars the officers in Tenaha are driving are Dodge Chargers. How much money are these people getting from motorists?

  8. irlandes says:

    This sort of thing is happening all over the US, and not just to minorities.

    August 6, I think 2007, around 9:30 pm, my wife and I were driving in Mississippi, headed to Hattiesburg to spend the night. We passed a cop car, apparently searching a rental truck. A few miles down the road here came a cop car, at a high rate of speed, hovered behind us while checking our plates, then pulled us over.

    He walked up to the back of our Toyota mini-van and gave a mighty tug on the hatch, obviously trying to open it.

    Then, he came to the side door, and gave some story that I might not have pulled over when passing the parked cop car. Wrong, But, then told us he just wanted us to know about the new law. I am from Texas, and to not pull over or slow down by a cop car is a serious offense.

    I did not understand until I called my son. He also experienced a false probable cause stop a couple hours earlier while crossing Arkansas. We were meeting at his house in VA the next day.

    Then, I realized that cop almost certainly was going to find drugs in my car and steal it if he had gotten that door open.

    This is happening all over the US. I have talked to young people in McAllen who get stopped for totally false things.

    But, don’t blame the cops nor the mayor. The judiciary are the folks who took a law which was supposed to confiscate property from those who made it illegally, only when they were convicted. The judiciary said this was a civil matter, thus there need be no proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

    And, when they pull shenanigans, it is the judiciary which makes them go through a $30,000 trial when they steal a $5,000 car or cash instead of following the Constitution and summarily ordering the assets returned..

  9. erexx says:

    This kind of thing erodes respect for the police in general.
    Once that is gone there will be no justice, because the perception that justice is corrupted.

    Stay out of Tenaha… or let you be the next victim of police corruption.

    On the surface it sounds like a great example of the police force being trained with blinders on.
    A method of police training that leads to megalomaniacal ego’s in uniform.
    An US vs. THEM mentality instead of a “to protect and serve” ideal.
    It’s the difference between those who choose to think and feel and those who simply choose to follow with “programmed” thinking and feeling.
    One is service for the greater good and the other is servitude (to mostly themselves.)

    Unfortunately, it looks like some Tenaha police officers prefer to serve themselves and their own personal interests instead of looking out for those they serve.

    This demonstrates an incredible lack of leadership from the top down.
    This is probably why a flat denial was posted instead of a honest internal review.
    A flat denial implies that Tenaha police officers are apparently immune to corruption.

    Its never good to start any relationship with a lie.

    • What do you expect,its Texas after all…TEN-aha, twenty-aha,got any valuables-aha

      • Ken says:

        So, John, you think this is a *Texas* thing?

        If so, if you really believe that, then you are just as bone-headed, reactionary and narrow-minded as the cretins who perpetrate this kind of outrage and those who defend it.

        Sorry, this is not a Republican v. Democrat, as some have suggested; and it’s not a red state v. blue state, nor a flaky, dusty little town v. big city issue or anything of the sort; it happens because of a certain law-enforcement cohort and philosophy that holds that we ALL are suspects (I refer you to the excellent post above) and it permeates this *whole* country. Do you really need to be reminded of the numerous cases of police misconduct that have been in the news in recent years from California and New York?

        Think unjustified asset forfeiture is a Texas thing? Spend an hour or so browsing http://www.fear.org.

        In the Tenaha case, it’s just more drug warrior tactics of the sort employed in Lousiana about 10-12 years ago, which many above the age of 15 may remember. (Iit’s amazing what a blind eye the American people will turn to such abuses when law enforcement plays the drug card.)

        They basically get around what would otherwise be 4th & 5th Amendment issues by making the seizures a civil matter *against the seized property* rather than criminal, and oops, whatdya know, your property has no Bill of Rights protection against being sued by the government.

        Defenders of this practice (like on the Chicago Tribune’s comment section) say, “well, if they weren’t guilty of something, they could and should hire a lawyer and sue for retrieval their money and goods. . . ., etc. ” (Kind of like the argument that you shouldn’t object to being searched it you’ve nothing to hide.) Never mind, of course, that a lot of these folks haven’t the resources to sue law enforcement institutions that have standing legal reps (Like DAs) or
        are already intimidated by the system, are intimidated by the threats of the
        cops, or have learned there’s no percentage in fighting city hall,
        especially where you’re a stranger; never mind that, if innocent, no-one
        should be *required* to hire an attorney to retrieve their property and
        never mind that they’d have little left of their confiscated cash if they
        did.

        What do you expect, it’s Texas, after all?

        Power corrupts, John. Wherever you are.

  10. Patricia Lebo says:

    Police corruption is not limited to Texas. I worked at the Fayetteville Police Dept in NC for four years. Please warn the attorneys that they need to watch out for spring loaded syringes shooting up from car seats when they sit down. They need to watch out for car wrecks, family members and co-workers being pitted against them, possible shootings, being drugged, etc. If the attorneys are lucky enough to maintain their integrity now, in ten years or so, their integrity will be ruined by corrupt officers. The threat of children being taken away is an old one. The attorneys need to look for a family relationship between DSS and the Police Department. When I worked at the FPD, Lt. Richard Bryan’ts ex-wife worked for DSS. One social worker made secret notes on the back of paper reports for future reference, but Lt. Richard Bryant had his ex-wife remove her notes.

  11. cliff coleman says:

    the mayor of tenaha son was charged for drugs ,every little town thats in shelby county is crooked,the D.A. missed placed evidence when it was time for husbands case to be presented in front of a grand jury for child molestation and he works for the shelby county police department. THe sheriff here in shelby county takes drugs from poeple to turn around and sell for his own profit.Half of shelby counties top dogs are under investgation,but like always they’ll find some loop hole to get out of what ever they’ve done

  12. Dillon Sandifer says:

    I see that this post is pretty old, but I want you to know that 1)The problem had been fixed, and 2)You don’t have to go boycotting the businesses in Tenaha, they didn’t do anything wrong…My family owns the Whistle Stop Restaurant and we actually all live in Joaquin as well as most of the workers, so that’s an unfair judgement call, we didn’t benefit from the unfair officers one bit!

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