By M. Scott Carter
A hearing has been scheduled for October in Oklahoma County District Court over the police seizure of Don Hoover’s 1994 BMW.
Earlier this week, the ACLU of Oklahoma reported that a car owned retired political consultant Don Hoover had been seized by Oklahoma City police in 2014. In the story, Don Hoover said he had not been notified about the seizure.
On Friday, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater told The McCarville Report, a political newsletter, that Don Hoover had, indeed, received notification that his car had been seized.
“This is a perfect example of the lies being told about asset forfeiture in Oklahoma,” Prater said in a written statement. “Not only did Don Hoover get notice, his attorney, Skip Kelly filed an answer to the petition. Both Don Hoover and his son Ross Hoover were served notice.”
However, questions remain about the process involved in seizing Hoover’s car. Court records show that on Jan. 30, 2015 District Judge Bryan Dixon granted a motion by Hoover’s attorney to overturn the state’s effort to forfeit his car by default.
In his motion Kelly, Don Hoover's attorney, asked the court to vacate the default judgment on the vehicle, saying neither he nor Hoover had received proper notification about the forfeiture of the car. Kelly argued that neither he nor Don Hoover had “received a copy of the application for final order and judgment of forfeiture (that) was filed with the court clerk’s office.”
Dixon’s ruling vacated the forfeiture he had previously ordered by default and allowed Don Hoover to answer to the state’s notice of intended forfeiture by Feb. 19, 2015.
Hoover responded on Feb. 5, 2015, saying the seizure of the car was a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Seven months later, Hoover filed a second motion – a motion for summary judgment, asking that the BMW be returned “together with costs and such other relief that is proper.”
Records also show the District Attorney’s office filed an amended notification on Dec. 2, 2014, which stated, “on October 23, 2014, plaintiff mailed this court’s final order and judgment of forfeiture to respondents. However, the certificate of mailing was not completed when filed.”
A further hearing on the seizure, records show, is scheduled for 10 a.m., October 9 in Judge Dixon’s courtroom.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- More than two years ago, Don Hoover bought a car.
Hoover, a retired Oklahoma political consultant, purchased a 1994 BMW. He said he bought the car so his son, Ross, would have a vehicle. The car was registered and titled in Don Hoover’s name.
“Ross was 16 at the time,” Hoover said. “He needed a car. I let him drive it, but the car was mine. I paid for it.”
About a year ago, the Oklahoma City police raided the home where Ross Hoover lived. The police arrested Ross and seized the car owned by his father. Ross Hoover was charged with several drug-related charges.
Don Hoover, however, was never notified his car had been seized. Police said no drugs were found in the vehicle. Hoover believed that because he, not Ross, owned the car it would be returned. That didn’t happen.
Today Don Hoover’s 1994 BMW is still gone.
“They (the police) took the car. It was my car,” he said. “There were no drugs in it but the police took it. And I still don’t have it back.”
Hoover’s loss isn’t the only one. Across the state, hundreds of seizures of both property and money occur each year. In fact, according to data analyzed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, over a five-year period, law enforcement officials in 13 counties seized at least $6.1 million in cash but only filed criminal charges related to about one third of that money.
From 2007 to 2014, more than $50 million in cash and property has been taken through civil asset forfeiture programs in Oklahoma.
In the Hoover case, Don Hoover, the owner of the car, was never charged with a crime. “They claimed it (the car) was used in the commission of a crime,” Don Hoover said. “But there were no drugs in the car and the car did not belong to my son.”
Used as a tool by police and other law enforcement agencies to fight drug crimes, asset forfeiture has also become a tool to help fund chronically underfunded law enforcement agencies.
Brady Henderson, ACLU Oklahoma legal director said the state is now relying on seized funds to help pay the bills of its law enforcement agencies.
“It's a shame that in a sense a Colombian drug cartel has become a more reliable revenue source for Oklahoma law enforcement than the state Legislature,” Henderson said.
Records obtained by the ACLU show there were 319 civil asset forfeiture cases in 13 counties from 2009 until 2014. Of those cases, criminal charges were filed in 205.
Hoover said those records show the asset forfeiture program has evolved from fighting drugs to generating revenue.
“I believe that the whole thing is a matter of a profit motive,” Don Hoover said. “The police are incentivized to go and do this.”
Jason Pye, Director of Messaging and Justice Reform for FreedomWorks, a Washington, D.C. Libertarian think tank, called the practice one of the worst forms of government overreach.
Pye, speaking at a recent state Senate hearing on Oklahoma’s civil asset forfeiture system, said only four states require a criminal conviction before an individual’s property can be seized. He said 39 states -- and the federal government -- allow the law enforcement agency that seized the property to keep some or all of the proceeds, creating “a perverse motive to self fund.”
“(In Oklahoma) we found the standard of proof to be too low and the burden of proof is on the property owner to get his property back,” Pye said.
Henderson said his organization and more than a dozen others are working to pass legislation that would reform the state’s asset forfeiture system. He said he wanted to ensure that law enforcement officials have the tools they need to fight crime, but added that the system needs more accountability and transparency.
“We’re not trying to eliminate asset forfeiture as a tool,” Henderson said. “But it needs to be improved. Right now too many assets are being taken without charges being filed and there’s not near enough transparency. We’d like to see that changed.”
Don Hoover agreed.
“Something needs to be done,” he said. “Because I’d like to have my car back.”