February 9, 2016

Jeana and Jack Horner are among the hundreds of people each year who find themselves caught in Indianapolis’s forfeiture machine. Jeana, a lifelong Indiana resident, works as an insurance-claims adjuster; Jack is retired and suffering from serious health issues. During the summer of 2013, they lent two vehicles to Jeana’s son Jeremy (Jack’s stepson). At the time, Jeremy was participating in a work-release program—he had pleaded guilty to a marijuana-related offense—so he was responsible for working as a contractor during the days and spending his nights in a county corrections facility. To help Jeremy fulfill his work-release obligations, the Horners lent him their Ford pickup truck and a Jeep Grand Cherokee while they were staying at their cabin.

While driving the Jeep, Jeremy was pulled over and arrested for marijuana possession. Police impounded the Jeep, and they also seized the Horners’ second vehicle, the pickup, which was parked elsewhere.

So began a nine-month ordeal for the innocent Horners. Jeana and Jack didn’t know whether Jeremy had been using their property for illegal activity and they learned of the seizures only days after the fact. For a month, Jeana tried to find out which agency was holding the vehicle , without success.

By the time prosecutors finally filed a formal forfeiture action against the vehicles in order to keep them for good, the burdens on Jack and Jeana had reached staggering heights. Given his health problems, Jack struggles to get around on his own (the seized Jeep is a designated handicapped vehicle), and Jeana, who works full time, was often unable to drive him. With no end in sight, they finally broke down and bought Jack a replacement car.

The criminal case against Jeana’s son eventually collapsed—the police searches had been illegal—and the courts also dismissed the forfeiture action against Jeana and Jack’s vehicles. Even so, it took law enforcement almost another three weeks to turn over the property. In a final indignity, the Horners found that one of the two vehicles had been drained of oil when they were, at last, returned.