Harris County Property Seizure Class Action Lawsuit Overview:
- Who: A Mississippi couple lodged a class action lawsuit against Harris County, located in Texas, including its District Attorney Kim Ogg, and Angela Beavers, chief of the county’s Asset Forfeiture Division.
- Why: The plaintiffs claim Harris County has an unconstitutional policy of seizing personal property based on nothing more than suspicion of wrongdoing.
- Where: The class action lawsuit was filed in the District Court of Harris County, Texas.
Harris County, Texas law enforcement agencies deny citizens due process by seizing their personal property simply because of the suspicion of criminal activity, a new class action lawsuit alleges.
Lead plaintiffs Ameal Woods and Jordan Davis claim Harris County’s property seizure and civil forfeiture practices violate the Texas Constitution and are done without arrests, criminal charges, or even probable cause.
Woods and Davis want to represent a Class of Harris County residents who have had their property unlawfully seized under the conditions listed above and a subclass of individuals who had their property taken while they were not present.
Property Seizure Drains Couple’s Live Savings
Woods operates a trucking business with his brother, and, in May 2019, says he began planning a trip to Houston to purchase a used tractor-trailer combination.
Woods claims he brought $42,300 — including $6,500 he borrowed from Davis, his wife — in cash on the trip believing he would likely need the cash to pay for the equipment.
Plaintiff claims he was pulled over during his drive by Harris County police officers who proceeded to seize his money, believing it was connected to drugs despite his assertions to the contrary and based on nothing more than suspicion, the class action lawsuit alleges.
Woods says neither he nor Davis received any communication from Harris County for more than two years, despite a civil-forfeiture complaint filed against them by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office less than a month after the property seizure.
Further, the complaint was signed by an officer who was not present during the traffic stop where Woods’ money was seized, the class action lawsuit alleges.
Woods claims he eventually hired a lawyer, but that it wasn’t until Aug. 30, 2021, 839 days after the money was seized and 812 days after the initial complaint was filed, that he and Davis had any involvement in the case.
“The county’s conduct … is part of a broader policy and practice under which it seizes property without probable cause (including from innocent owners whom it does not suspect of culpability), fails to provide adequate notice or opportunity to be heard, and then compels property owners to litigate (at their own expense) based on unconstitutional state procedures,” states the class action lawsuit.
Woods and Davis are asking for Class certification, declaratory judgements in their favor, and all legal and equitable relief to which they may be entitled.
The Texas Constitution was also at the center of a temporary restraining order filed this month by Planned Parenthood against Texas Right to Life, an anti-abortion organization.
Do you believe Harris County does or should be allowed to seize people’s property based only on suspicion of wrongdoing? Let us know in the comments!
The plaintiffs are represented by Wesley Hottot and Arif Panju of the Institute for Justice.
The Harris County Property Seizure Class Action Lawsuit is Woods, et al. v. Harris County, et al., Case No. 2021-54748, in the District Court of Harris County, Texas.
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