Motor City Madness: County’s Illegal Campaign to Silence an IJ Client
IJ has long represented clients across the country speaking out against their local governments. And we have also represented property owners challenging unconstitutional civil forfeiture schemes. In all these cases, we never experienced a government threatening to throw one of our clients in jail because they dared partner with us in a constitutional challenge.
Robert Reeves—an auto mechanic, construction worker, and lifelong Detroiter—is all too familiar with Wayne County’s abusive legal tactics. In July 2019, the county impounded his 1991 Chevrolet Camaro after police witnessed him drive to a job site where there was allegedly stolen construction equipment. They never accused Robert of stealing the equipment, and he assured the police he had no knowledge of any theft. Yet Robert’s innocence did not matter—Wayne County declared his property guilty and demanded a $900 ransom payment to get it back.
As regular Liberty & Law readers know, we brought a class action against the county’s seizure-and-ransom policy seven months later, with Robert as the lead client. In this ongoing case, we argue that the county cannot take someone’s car without evidence that they committed a crime.
Within two weeks of IJ filing this lawsuit, Wayne County struck back and charged Robert with two bogus felonies for receiving and concealing stolen property. Then, the county ran to court, arguing that Robert could not challenge its rapacious forfeiture program so long as he was accused of felonies. With IJ’s help, Robert fought back, and a judge dismissed the charges for lack of evidence.
But the county was not finished. Two weeks later, it refiled the charges again. And again, it ran to court to suspend Robert’s case against its illegal forfeiture scheme. None of these legal tactics were based on evidence—they were roadblocks designed to intimidate Robert into giving up his case. Thankfully, Robert would not be intimidated, and the same judge dismissed the felony charges once more.
Now, nearly four years since the county first took his car, Robert is teaming up with IJ a second time. At risk of future prosecution, he is suing the county and its attorneys for violating his constitutional right to challenge the government without fear of retaliation. In doing so, he joins a growing number of IJ clients who are standing up for their First Amendment rights after government bullies fined, punished, or arrested them for daring to speak out.
Robert will not be silenced, and Wayne County—like other governments that seize people’s cars without evidence—will be held accountable.
Christian Lansinger is an IJ attorney.
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