Shakedown in Tenaha, Texas

In October 2007, law enforcement officials in Tenaha, Texas, pulled Roderick Daniels over for allegedly traveling 37 mph in a 35 mph zone.  Upon discovering $8,500 in cash that the Tennessee man had planned to use to buy a new car, the officers took Daniels to jail and threatened to charge him with money-laundering unless he turned over the cash.  Daniels surrendered his property.  “To be honest, I was five, six hundred miles from home.  I was petrified,” he said.[1]

Daniels’ experience was far from unusual in Tenaha.  Between 2006 and 2008, local officials stopped more than 140, mostly black, out-of-state drivers, including a grandmother from Akron, a black family from Maryland and an interracial family from Houston.  Once arrested, officers took them to jail and threatened to file charges unless they signed pre-notarized statements relinquishing any claim to their valuables.  Officers seized cash, cars, cell phones, jewelry and even sneakers.  In most cases, criminal charges were never filed and there was no evidence to conclude the motorists were engaged in illicit activity.[2]

A federal lawsuit filed in July 2008 accuses authorities of targeting minorities driving rental cars or vehicles with out-of-state plates.  “My take on the matter is that the police in Tenaha, Texas, were picking on and preying on people that were least likely to fight back,” said David Guillory, who represents eight plaintiffs.[3]

Although law enforcement alleges that the stretch of road on which the stops are made is a major drug corridor between Shreveport, La., and Houston, Texas, none of the plaintiffs has been arrested for, much less convicted of, violating drug laws.

Jennifer Boatright and her husband Ronald Henderson relinquished more than $6,000 after police and the Shelby County District Attorney threatened to charge them with money-laundering and put their two children in foster care.  “I said, ‘If it’s the money you want, you can take it, if that’s what it takes to keep my children with me and not separate them from us.  Take the money,’” said Boatright.[4]

Maryland resident Amanee Busbee was traveling to Houston with her son, fiancé and business partner to complete the purchase of a restaurant.  “The police officer would say things to me like, ‘Your son is going to child protective services because you are not saying what we need to hear,’” said Busbee.[5]

Guillory says of the 40 motorists he contacted, 39 were black.  He estimates officials seized $3 million between 2006 and 2008 from improper seizures.  Public records requests revealed that the District Attorney used some of the money to buy a $524 popcorn machine, $195 for candy and $400 for catering.  Seized funds also went to the local Chamber of Commerce, a youth baseball league and a local church.

Officials have denied any wrongdoing but have returned Roderick Daniels’s possessions as well as Boatright and Henderson’s.[6]  The civil rights lawsuit is currently in discovery.


[1] Tuchman, G., & Wojtecki, K. (2009, May 5). Texas police shake down drivers, lawsuit claims. Retrieved September 16, 2009, from

[2] Witt, H. (2009, March 10). Highway robbery in Texas?; Lawsuit says motorists, disproportionately black, are forced by police to forfeit cash, cars and more–or be charged with trumped-up crimes. Chicago Tribune, p. C4; Sandberg, L. (2009, February 7). Property seizures seen as piracy. San Antonio Express-News, p.1A.

[3] 2nd Amended Complaint at 1, Morrow v. City of Tenaha No. 2:08cv288 (E.D. Tx. filed Jun. 30, 2009). Tuchman and Wojtecki, 2009.

[4] Morrow v. City of Tenaha No. 2:08cv288 at 9; Tuchman and Wojtecki, 2009.

[5] Tuchman and Wojtecki, 2009. 

[6] Witt, 2009; Tuchman and Wojtecki, 2009.

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