America’s legal process can be long and grueling, with cases often dragging on for years at a time. But, yesterday, thanks to pressure in the court of public opinion, justice was swiftly served recently in Oklahoma. Muskogee County District Attorney Orvil Loge indicated his office was dropping all charges against Eh Wah, a Burmese refugee charged with possession of drug proceeds, and would also drop a civil forfeiture claim and immediately return more than $53,000 in seized cash. All of this occurred just seven hours after the Institute for Justice announced it would be representing the innocent owners.
The money was seized when Eh Wah, a manager for a Burmese Christian band, was pulled over for a broken taillight while driving from Iowa back to his home in Dallas. A Muskogee County sheriff’s deputy seized more than $53,000 in cash from him. The cash consisted of proceeds from the band’s five-month-long tour, donations for an orphanage in Thailand and a cash gift for one of the band members. Eh Wah tried to explain to the officer what the cash was for, but had difficulty, as English is not his first language. The officer seized the cash after a drug dog alerted at the scene. On March 11, the Muskogee County District Attorney filed a civil forfeiture case. Then, on April 5, Muskogee County’s DA Office issued a felony warrant for Eh Wah’s arrest for possessing “proceeds from drug activity.”
After IJ announced it was representing Eh Wah and other innocent owners of the seized cash, and after an initial story by the Washington Post about the case, a tsunami of media outlets started flooding the sheriff and district attorney with inquiries about case. According the Muskogee Phoenix, Loge said, “[m]y office had a lot of calls after the Washington Post article [was published] over the weekend.”
Unfortunately, this was only the most recent time Oklahoma made headlines for forfeiture abuse. In March a grand jury indicted Wagoner County Sheriff Bob Colbert and Deputy Jeff Gragg after they convinced a driver they pulled over to give them a portion of $10,000 they threated to seize during a traffic stop. Police Chief Stephen Mills became an advocate against civil forfeiture after his own vehicle was seized. His vehicle was only returned after Mills tipped off a reporter about the seizure and the reporter called the DA’s office about it.
Last year, State Sen. Kyle Loveless introduced a civil forfeiture reform bill, but it never left committee after law enforcement claimed that no abuse was occurring in the state.
In Eh Wah’s words:
This was an experience that no one should ever have to live through. It felt like something that would happen in a third-world country, but not in the United States. I’m just so happy that this is over and I hope that no one else will have to go through something like this.
Below are many of the articles written about this case so far.
Washington Post: How Oklahoma cops took $53,000 from a Burmese Christian band, a church in Omaha and an orphanage in Thailand
Daily Signal: Sheriff’s Department Seized $53K From Christian Band Raised for Orphanage, School
Oklahoma Watch: Despite Muskogee County Seizure, Forfeiture Laws Remain Untouched
Gawker: Oklahoma Sheriff’s Deputies Took $53,000 from a Christian Rock Band and an Orphanage in Thailand
Hot Air: Oklahoma police seize money intended for Christian school, orphanage
KFOR: $53,000 meant for charities returned to man after seizure; DA drops charges
News Grio: Oklahoma Sheriff’s Deputies Took $53,000 from a Christian Rock Band and an Orphanage in Thailand
Reason: Oklahoma Deputies Seize Thousands Raised by Burmese Christian Band and Claim It’s Drug Proceeds (Update: Case Dropped)
The Patriot Post: Not Drug Money, Just Christian Cash for Orphans
Fox 23: DA: Muskogee deputies to return cash to Christian band
Christian Post: Christian Band Fights to Recover $53K Raised for Orphans Taken by Oklahoma Police
News On 6: Charitable Donations Seized In Muskogee County Traffic Stop Returned
Tulsa World: Muskogee County Sheriff’s Office to return more than $50,000 seized in traffic stop to Asian orphans, students
Gawker: Update: Oklahoma DA Will Return Seized Cash to Burmese Christian Rock Band Manager
KJRH: Muskogee DA drops $53,000 civil forfeiture case against Burmese orphanage, church
Muskogee Phoenix: Civil and criminal cases in $53,000 seizure dismissed; money returned
Christian Post: Forfeiture Case Against Christian Rock Band Dropped by Muskogee DA, Police Will Return $53K
Washington Post: Why Oklahoma cops are returning $53,000 to a Christian band, an orphanage and a church
The Leaf: Cops Seize, Then Return, $53,000 from Christian Rock Band