TAKEN: How police departments make millions by seizing property

It fits the pattern. Black men carry the burden of South Carolina’s civil forfeiture program. Almost two-thirds of people targeted by forfeiture are black males, according to TAKEN investigation data analysis. Yet they represent just 13 percent of the general population.

Hilary Shelton, the NAACP Washington bureau director, said the organization worries the racial targeting in South Carolina is even worse than has been reported.

“Civil asset forfeiture, combined with the historic and consistent problems of racial profiling on our highways and byways, becomes very much part of a troubling equation,” he said. “It’s been used in a racially discriminatory manner. The law must be fully reviewed.”

The state has a long history of racial discrimination related to property. 

Civil forfeiture is a vestige of that history, some critics say. It links to an established trend of targeted law enforcement that puts more police in contact with non-whites, an exposure that can lead to civil forfeiture, experts say.

Some departments have built a money-making machine on the backs of this type of targeting.

It starts with where police use forfeiture. It’s happening in every urban environment in South Carolina. There are only six cities in the state with a population over 50,000. All of them frequently use forfeiture.

In smaller towns, only about half the police forces use the tool at all, and most agencies don’t pursue many cases.

The system is designed to be applied at scale. The more forfeiture is used, the more money police have at their disposal for equipment, training and for undercover drug purchases.

Though the racial disparities in the data exist broadly across the state, the decisions that lead to civil forfeiture are situational. It’s a traffic stop, or a drug investigation that leads to a residence, or increased patrols in low-income or historically black neighborhoods.

The TAKEN team used census data to analyze the widest disparities between the number of forfeiture cases with black subjects compared with the number of black residents in an agency’s jurisdiction.

The largest racial gaps? The highest disproportionate targeting of black people came from the Myrtle Beach Police Department, followed by the Lexington County Sheriff’s Office and the Charleston Police Department.

During 2014-2016, there was one black person targeted for forfeiture by Myrtle Beach police for every 50 black residents who live there. If you roughly extrapolated that rate over a generation, one in five black people would have money or goods taken by police in Myrtle Beach at some point over three decades, despite the fact that the city is mostly white.

The city is 69 percent white and just 14 percent black, according to 2014 U.S. Census data.

In Greenville County, black people were targeted for forfeiture at a rate of one per every 587 black residents during our three-year study period.

In comparison, forfeiture affected one white person per every 4,139 white residents in the county. Greenville County is 69 percent white and 19 percent black, according to U.S. Census data.

“It just sort of reinforces an understanding we already knew — that black residents disproportionately come in contact with law enforcement given the way criminal justice policy is oriented in this country,” said Nicole Porter, spokeswoman at The Sentencing Project, a reform advocacy group.

A piece of this policing story is tied to the highway and police behavior and assumptions.

In one case, a Wellford officer pulled over a black man on Interstate 85 for what he said was failure to maintain a lane. When he discovered cash in the car that day in 2012, the officer called in the top Homeland Security agent in Greenville to help seize it. They’d found what police said were “marijuana particles.”

The North Carolina driver, Lee Harris Jr., said it was tobacco. The officers took $7,008 from the glove box.

“I call them pirates,” said Lee Harris Sr., the driver’s father. The elder Harris is a minister and a military veteran who said the money comes from his bank and from documented Social Security and benefits.

Harris said he had left $7,000 in the car when his son went on a trip to Atlanta. He filed a lawsuit, and after a year-and-a-half, he settled. The government kept $2,008 even though Harris’ son was never charged with a crime.

Sometimes police seize cash when the driver is merely ticketed for a minor violation not related to drugs, according to court records.

Ramando Moore was cited for having an open container in Richland County in 2015; he lost $604.

Plexton Denard Hunter was pulled over for a seatbelt violation in 2015 in Richland County and had $541 seized. Tesla Carter, another seatbelt violation, this time in Anderson in 2015. She lost $1,361.

South Carolina agencies with the highest rate of seizure of property from black people


If you’re black and driving in South Carolina, you are more likely to be stopped by police. In 24 states with available race data by traffic stop, the state had the second highest rate of black motorists stopped by state troopers, according to a 2017 study by the Stanford Open Policing Project.

In Greenville County, there were 24 state patrol stops for every 100 black residents of driving age. There were only 15 stops for every 100 white residents in the nine-year study period, according to the project.

Officers have a lower threshold to search black drivers than white drivers, the Stanford research shows, evidenced by data that revealed when officers searched drivers, they found contraband more often on white drivers than black ones.

Yet the scope of action taken by law enforcement and the justice system against black Americans throughout U.S. history makes it easier for an officer to take from a black person than a white person, said Heather Ann Thompson, a criminal justice and African-American history professor at the University of Michigan and author of “Blood in the Water.”

It’s the same reason black people are prosecuted more harshly, are incarcerated more often and for longer sentences and face civil fines and penalties more often than whites. They’re just not as likely to be able to marshal resources to fight back against the justice system, she said.

“It has everything to do with who has access to good defense lawyers and who’s getting pulled over to begin with,” said Thompson, who’s a leading voice in criminal justice reform.

The racial disparity may begin with traffic stops, but it extends well beyond them in South Carolina.


Ella Bromell sits in her home in Conway on Feb. 21, 2018. These days, she rarely leaves her yard — she said she lives in fear of losing her 1,000-square-foot home. She’s endured years of efforts by the city of Conway to seize her house, an attempt to shut down drug dealers by going after Bromell.LAUREN PETRACCA/GREENVILLE NEWS

How often are black people in this state the victim of civil forfeiture when the police encounter doesn’t involve being pulled over in a car?

Excluding known traffic stops, police seized money from black people in two-thirds of all cases compared with one-third for whites, our TAKEN data analysis shows. It’s an even more startling fact when considering South Carolina is 69 percent white.

Ella Bromell, a 72-year-old widow from Conway, twice nearly lost her home, though she’s never been convicted of a crime in her life.

Yet the city of Conway nearly succeeded in seizing her house because they said she didn’t do enough to stop crime happening on the sidewalk and in her yard. Young men were using her lawn as a location to sell drugs at night, according to court records.

The fight between Conway officials and Bromell, who is black, began in 2007 and lasted a decade — culminating in court in 2017 when two judges sided with her and wrote that the city “failed to produce any evidence that the residence was an integral or otherwise fundamental part of illegal drug activity.”

Still, Bromell fears the city will try again, despite the police admission in court that they couldn’t say if she was even aware of a single drug sale around her house.

Conway City Manager Adam Emrick said the city has contemplated future seizures in the case of Bromell or similar property owners.

Losing her home would be the end of her, Bromell said. “I don’t want to go nowhere else.”

More: She gave her friend a ride and lost her wages

Thurmond Brooker, Bromell’s attorney, said the law is being warped without the public even noticing. “It’s being used in a way in which innocent people can have their property taken,” he said. “Little old ladies whose property is being trespassed upon can be victimized for a second time.”

Why are black citizens like Bromell facing forfeiture more often than their white neighbors?

One police official said it’s because there’s more drug crime in the black community.

“We go where we’re called,” Greenville Police Chief Ken Miller said. “We police where people are telling us there are problems. We’re not an agency — and I don’t know a police agency — that tries to balance racially its interdiction of drugs off the street.”

The bulk of the drugs and weapons calls the city receives are in minority communities, Miller said. He said he won’t apologize if police tactics disproportionately engage black men and lead to more seizures.

In Greenville County, the Sheriff’s Office initiated 256 forfeiture cases from 2014-2016, of which 150 involved blacks and 85 involved whites.

Greenville city police had 89 cases. Of those, 53 involved blacks and 22 involved whites.

Miller said the city has spent time and money on racial bias training and is working to better track data on traffic stops.

David Smith, one of the architects of the expanded forfeiture laws enacted in the 1980s to fight the War on Drugs, said it’s a great tool for going after significant criminals. Drug lords. White collar masterminds. But increasingly forfeiture has been co-opted by local police forces to take petty cash on the side of the road, he said.

Grant, the Atlanta musician, said he understands how police work and knew right away he would fight to get his money back, even if it cost him legal fees.

“They knew we were young, and we were black,” Grant said. “They pulled us over, gave us a bogus reason. We didn’t consent to search; they searched anyway.”

Grant’s drug charge was dismissed, and though he had proof that he earned his money legally — show schedules, payment receipts, contracts — it could have taken another two years before he could challenge the forfeiture in court. So Grant chose to settle rather than wait.

The state got $500. He got $7,500 back but had to pay his attorney $2,500.

His case was considered a good outcome.

“We’re the ones being railroaded,” Grant said. “It just speaks volumes to where we are as a people.”

More: For years, a SC city tried to seize a widow’s home. It still might.

More: Atlanta rapper fought the law and won

Enjoying the TAKEN investigation series? Please support local journalism by subscribing to The News.

Have you lost property through civil forfeiture? Or do you have information about the practice we should know? We’d like to hear about it. Or about any investigative tips we could work on. Contact our reporters at taken@greenvillenews.com.

Bloomberg: Two Ex-Fed Officials Have a Faster Way to Distribute Money in Recession

Julia Coronado and Simon Potter say recession insurance bonds could activate payments and bypass political wrangling in a crisis.

The coronavirus pandemic that shut down economies around the globe showed how crucial—and difficult—it is to get money swiftly to people who need it most in a crisis. Former central bank officials Simon Potter, who led the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s markets group, and Julia Coronado, who spent eight years as an economist for the Fed’s Board of Governors, are among the innovators brainstorming solutions. They propose creating a monetary tool that they call recession insurance bonds, which draw on some of the advances in digital payments. Coronado, president and founder of MacroPolicy Perspectives LLC, and Potter, nonresident senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, spoke with Bloomberg Markets to explain their idea.

JULIA CORONADO: Congress would grant the Federal Reserve an additional tool for providing support—say, a percent of GDP [in a lump sum that would be divided equally and distributed] to households in a recession. Recession insurance bonds would be zero-coupon securities, a contingent asset of households that would basically lie in wait. The trigger could be reaching the zero lower bound on interest rates or, as economist Claudia Sahm has proposed, a 0.5 percentage point increase in the unemployment rate. The Fed would then activate the securities and deposit the funds digitally in households’ apps.

And so instead of these gyrations we’ve been going through to get money to households, it would happen instantaneously.

SIMON POTTER: It took Congress too long to get money to people, and it’s too clunky. We need a separate infrastructure. The Fed could buy the bonds quickly without going to the private market. On March 15 they could have said interest rates are now at zero, we’re activating X amount of the bonds, and we’ll be tracking the unemployment rate—if it increases above this level, we’ll buy more.

The bonds will be on the asset side of the Fed’s balance sheet; the digital dollars in people’s accounts will be on the liability side.

BM: Aside from speed, what are the main advantages of this approach?

JC: It’s the most efficient from a macroeconomic standpoint in supporting spending and confidence. The fear of unemployment acts as an accelerant on a recession. There’s a shock—people are losing their jobs or worry about losing their jobs. They get very risk-averse. [By] getting money to consumers you can limit the depth and duration of a recession.

And you could actually generate real inflation. It could be beneficial for not only avoiding negative rates but creating a more healthy interest-rate market, a more healthy yield curve.

BM: What are the origins of the idea?

JC: The Bank of England has proposals for digital currency. And a number of people have talked about the need for monetary financing—the idea that the interest-rate tool is simply less effective in lower growth, slower credit growth economies. Helicopter money [making direct payments to the public] goes back to Milton Friedman, but Ben Bernanke revisited it.

Some people proposed doing that through financing fiscal stimulus. We think going directly to consumers is more efficient than wading through that sticky fiscal process.

BM: This policy could be complementary to Treasury stimulus?

JC: It’s not a replacement for fiscal policy. It makes sense from a fiscal perspective, for example, to authorize unemployment insurance benefits for people who lose their jobs and other assistance for medical-care providers in the current situation.

SP: The central bank is not elected. It cannot make allocation decisions about fiscal transfers. It’s now being pushed to make allocation decisions around credit with the Treasury, because we believe this situation is so unique that the private sector cannot make those decisions itself.

The simplest way to do this would be a lump sum. Not in the way Congress did it. We’d take the bluntness of monetary policy and say anyone who’s eligible should get the same amount of bonds.

Fiscal controls could use the same infrastructure. The imperative to invest in it is high. Nearly all Treasury payments at some point touch the Fed because it’s the Treasury’s bank. The digital payment providers—called interface providers in the Bank of England proposal—would manage these accounts and link them to the Fed and Treasury.

BM: What are the objections from the Fed, and other challenges?

SP: The reaction from some of my former colleagues a while ago to the notion of helicopter money was not the most embracing. Some of those concerns have disappeared.

The two objections were related to the switch of deposits in normal times from the traditional banking system into digital accounts and the extra stress in crisis times as people want to get safe. An account with the central bank is safe because the central bank can always print money to honor that claim. A private bank can’t do that because their asset side has all kinds of credit on it. What we’ve created is a narrow bank-type model [narrow banks only take deposits and invest them in the safest assets] that’s small and fit for purpose, with a cap of $10,000 [per person].

JC: One challenge is making it profitable for digital providers. We want strict limitations on the fees so we’re reaching people that are underbanked, but we also want a public-private partnership with a diversity of competitors jumping into this market.

Privacy is just as important, because one thing that might induce them is access to people’s data. As the Fed, are you blessing that, and what structure do you put around that?

SP: We’ll all have to deal with deep questions of privacy in the digital world. One of the issues Congress had in passing the Cares Act is identifying who’s got mainly tip income, who doesn’t have sick days. If society wanted, you could use large datasets to direct fiscal transfers to those people. But that’s a job for Congress.

BM: Have you seen similar trials elsewhere?

SP: Sweden is a leader in thinking about this in part because they had a large decline in cash use. China is testing versions of digital currency. Fintech firms in the U.S. are interested in this—there’s a stable coin version of our proposal.

There’s easily sufficient innovation within the U.S. to do this. How to do it in a way that’s well regulated and serving the public purpose is something the Fed should focus on over the next few years. It would be a key accomplishment of the Fed and Treasury to get this infrastructure in place.

Stock Buybacks Enrich Management (Bad Stewards)

Dimon, Iger, Cook, Nadella, Pichai, Fink … they’re not founders like Gates or Bezos. They’re not investors like Buffett or Dalio. They’re management. And now they’re billionaires. And all their captains and lesser brethren are centimillionaires. And all their lieutenants and subalterns are decamillionaires.

And everyone is perfectly fine with this. No one even notices that this is happening or that it’s different or that it’s a sea change in how we organize wealth in our society. It’s not good or bad or deserved or undeserved. It just IS. This is our Zeitgeist.

This Is Water
One day we will recognize the defining Zeitgeist of the Obama/Trump years for what it is: an unparalleled transfer of wealth to the managerial class.

It’s the triumph of the manager over the steward. The triumph of the manager over the entrepreneur. The triumph of the manager over the founder. The triumph of the manager over ALL.


If TXN is the poster child of financialization, where are the owners? Who should be voting against all this bullshit? Where’s the corporate raider coming in to unlock shareholder value.

Here’s a quick google search.

Mutual fund holders 51.33%
Other institutional 37.52%
Individual stakeholders 0.55%

The finance industry is having it’s own “god is dead and we have killed him” moment.

Many speculate what the end game of “passive” investing looks like.

This is a preview.

But that’s what everyone in finance does. Don’t look at individual investments, build a portfolio. Hurray indexing. Hurray diversification. Hurray diversified portfolio across asset classes because you can’t make alpha without private information.

Are you investing in a way that supports more of this shit? Then going to your favorite forum “let’s ban buybacks”.

open eyes
clear hearts

Don’t buy TXN stock(directly or indirectly).

Question for Ben: Is there any TXN under your management?