Friday, December 26, 2008

Muncie and the DTF - the Story So Far

This past Tuesday, the Delaware County Prosecutor was ordered to repay attorney fees and money confiscated.

I cannot give any better commentary than Doug Masson gave in his post Delaware County:
I’ll go ahead and add, that philosophically, I have serious reservations about asset forfeiture laws passed in support of the War on (Some) Drugs. As to Indiana’s laws, specifically, I don’t have anything like comprehensive knowledge, but only know of the process in the country generally. So, don’t take this as a specific critique of the situation in our state. Generally, the potential for abuse is always there when you have law enforcement taking property from a citizen for the benefit of the law enforcement agency with potentially relaxed standards of proof as to whether the property was used in aid of a crime. There should be some fairly significant levels of process when government takes property from a citizen, and, probably more importantly, there should be some serious filters between those who make decisions about seizing property and those who make decisions about how that seized property is allocated. “I can take your stuff and it will make my life and the life of my co-workers better; and besides, you’re a drug dealing scumbag” is a pretty powerful incentive, I would think.
So here is the story, so far (all from The Muncie Star Press):

Secret DTF deals now in open :
"McKinney, hired by former Prosecutor Rick Reed, said he has done nothing differently than his predecessor, a claim Reed denies.

And though Reed refused an invitation for an interview, his wife's best friend, Mayor Sharon McShurley, said she turned to Reed for advice early on as part of her own Muncie-Delaware County Drug Task Force investigation.

'At some point in time I specifically called Rick and asked, 'Hey, there's this confidential agreement and what does this mean?' and he knew nothing about it,' the mayor said.

McShurley and McKinney do have at least a brief pre-DTF history. She applied for a job in his office as a diversion coordinator, the job previously held by her best friend Kris Reed. And in 2006 McShurley crossed party lines to support McKinney's candidacy for prosecutor. She attended fundraising events and voted for him, things she said she regrets now."

***

McKinney dismisses any argument that confidential agreements are improper, or that using them is an attempt to conduct normally-public business in secret.

"I do have a problem with saying that if you're dealing with public money, the public has a right to know," McKinney said. "Does the public know how many lawsuits were settled with inmates of the Delaware County Jail? I assure you they do not. I assure you a number of those situations were settled outside of any kind of lawsuit. There's a claim filed, they pay it off.

"So to say that just because forfeiture money is public money, there's something wrong with the way things were handled, I think that's a false claim.

"Let's also be clear that the money coming in and how it was spent was never kept from the public. The State Board of Accounts always had access to it. They always audited it. Every year they did an audit and all the money was accounted for," McKinney said.

But the SBA didn't approve of how the money was spent, including a check written for a piece of carpet in the prosecutor's office. McKinney said the money was spent on things "that help us do our jobs better," though he acknowledged the carpet isn't the best example of that.

***

In light of filing a complaint with the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission and continuing to study past court cases, the mayor said she has one goal.

"To have a judicial system that works and that people respect and have confidence in," she said. "They have to have confidence in their police officers, in their prosecutor, in the judges, and if they don't have that confidence then it's almost to the point of why would it even exist?"

To that end, she pledges the city's tight financial resources and all the necessary time it takes for the investigations to come to conclusions.

"Just because it costs too much money, do you not do it then?" McShurley asked. "To me it's no different than a murder case. If someone committed murder but it's going to cost an awful lot of money to prosecute them, do you not prosecute them?

"If we have a prosecutor that has committed violations or we have police officers that have committed violations, do we still not owe it to the public to pursue it even if there's a cost associated with it? There are issues that need to be addressed."

What went wrong?: The DTF began 20 years ago to fight Muncie drug culture :

"But somewhere along the way, something went wrong. Police and prosecutors began to spend seized money on more than just the war on drugs -- carpeting, gym equipment, trainers -- and a closed-door, possibly illegal system of secret deals came into play. Criminals were stripped of cash and property, sometimes before charges were even filed, and some defendants reached deals and never were charged at all."

Let me point out that the current Muncie Mayor is a Republcian (as has been true for most of the past twenty years), husband is an attorney, but that McKinney (and his predecessors - including Rick Reed - have been Democrats). Reed's silence has been interesting and one explanation I have heard is that McKinney told Reed to take a hike. Not a good idea to annoy your alleged mentor.

From what I have heard, this is just the beginning. Remember money changes everything and there is just too much money in the illegal drug trade. Too much money for the outlaws and for the lawmen.

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