Sheriff Harold Eavenson of Rockwall County, Tex., brought up the issue of civil asset forfeiture, which allows authorities to seize cash and property from people suspected, but in some cases never convicted or even charged, with a crime.
Eavenson told Trump of a “state senator in Texas that was talking about legislation to require conviction before we could receive that forfeiture money.”
“Can you believe that?” Trump interjected.
“And,” Eavenson went on, “I told him that the cartel would build a monument to him in Mexico if he could get that legislation passed.”
“Who's the state senator?” Trump asked. “Do you want to give his name? We'll destroy his career,” he joked, to laughter from the law enforcement officials in the room.
Eavenson did not share the senator's name.
A 2015 ACLU investigation found that Philadelphia police routinely seized what amounted to “pocket change” from some of the city's poorest residents. A 2014 Washington Post investigation found that police seized $2.5 billion in cash from motorists not charged with crimes as part of a federal program.
When told of the practice, a large majority of Americans are opposed to it. A December 2016 survey by YouGov and the libertarian Cato Institute found that 84 percent of Americans oppose taking “a person’s money or property that is suspected to have been involved in a drug crime before the person is convicted of a crime.”
A broader YouGov survey, conducted in 2015, found that 71 percent of Americans agreed that “law enforcement should only be able to permanently seize money or other property if that person is charged with and convicted of a crime.” Only 7 percent said that police should be able to make such seizures if no criminal charges had been filed.
But law enforcement groups have been resolute in their support for the practice. They say seizing money from people not charged with crimes is sometimes necessary to protect public safety, particularly in cases where it may be hard to obtain a criminal conviction against a suspect.
President Trump has not spoken much about the practice, and the White House did not immediately return a request for comment. But Trump's nominee to lead the Justice Department, Sen. Jeff Sessions, has been an enthusiastic proponent of civil asset forfeiture. In a 2015 Senate hearing, Sessions said that “95 percent” of forfeitures involve suspects who have “done nothing in their lives but sell dope.”
It's unclear which state senator Sheriff Eavenson was referring to. In December, Texas state Sen. Konni Burton introduced a bill to require criminal conviction before forfeiture. Neither Eavenson nor Burton was immediately available for comment. Eavenson declined to share the name of the senator with the Dallas Morning News.
His views on law enforcement are shaped in part by his false belief that the murder rate is at a nearly five-decade high.