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Texas DA Sued Over Alleged Phony Arrest Scheme Left ‘High and Dry’

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  • Texas DA Sued Over Alleged Phony Arrest Scheme Left ‘High and Dry’

    Last March, we blogged a story from the Chicago Tribune about a small town in Texas — called Tenaha — a “dusty fleck of a town” near the Texas-Louisiana border.

    According to the Trib story, police officers in Tenaha had long made a practice of stripping motorists, many of whom are African-American and just passing through, of their property without ever charging them with a crime.

    Now comes a recent story in the Dallas Morning News gets us up to speed on an interesting development down Tenaha way. The Shelby County District Attorney, Lynda K. Russell, has reportedly been left to fend for herself in her defense.

    Here’s the backstory, according to the Morning-News:
    James Morrow was driving to Houston to visit his cousin when he was pulled over in the East Texas town of Tenaha for “driving too close to the white line.”

    The officer, Barry Washington, searched the vehicle and asked Morrow if he had any money, according to court records. Morrow, who is black, had $3,900. He said the officer took the cash and drove him to the Shelby County Jail.

    That’s where authorities threatened to prosecute him for money laundering unless he agreed to forfeit the money, Morrow said. He was never charged with a crime in the 2007 incident, and when he pursued legal action, he got the money back.

    The lawsuit accuses Russell, Washington, and other Tenaha law enforcement officials of running a “stop and seize” practice. Last week, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott released an opinion saying Russell couldn’t use money from the forfeiture fund to defend herself against the suit. Russell sought the opinion after Shelby County and the state rejected her requests for legal representation.

    Russell has been left “high and dry,” says her attorney, Tom Henson. “She’ll have to pay for her defense out of her own resources, which are limited.”

    But Henson says that Russell feels she’s done nothing wrong. “She feels very strongly that she has done nothing wrong and she’s not liable, and neither are the other defendants. They had good cause for whatever they did,” Henson added.

    Russell and Tenaha officials have defended their practices, saying they have used Texas’ asset forfeiture law to combat drug trafficking and other crimes. Officials have not responded to the allegation that minorities were targeted under the program.

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