So Wrong It Defies Belief: The Green Bay Police Heist

Maybe the public and the media are finally waking up to the astoundingly un-American abuse of power that are the  civil forfeiture laws,  which allow property and cash to be seized as helping to facilitate a crime, and later are divvied up between the police and the state. There are some promising signs. Libertarians like Radley Balko have been trying to ring the ethics alarms on this horrendous example of government misconduct for years, and the Institute for Justice continues its lonely battle to defeat the most egregious offenses, but George Will just used the trumpet of his weekly column to expose the Caswell family motel scandal, which Ethics Alarms discussed in February here. Now comes a tale of civil forfeiture from Wisconsin that is so brazen that it defies belief, and also compels the following question:

How can this happen  in America? Also this one: If the government will use its power to steal money and property from law-abiding citizens, and no effort is made on the part of national government leaders to do anything to stop it, how can at least 50% of the American public continue to advocate giving more power and money to a government that obviously cannot be trusted with either?

The first question is frightening in its implications.

The second is a mystery, on par with “What happened to the Mary Celeste?”

Balko tells the “Believe It or Not” worthy saga on the Huffington Post. Imagine: in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the Greer family sought to raise $7,500 bail for son Joel, in jail on drug charges. Police told the family to bring cash only; Wisconsin is one of four states that do not permit bail bondsmen. That demand was still illegal, but trusting Barbara Greer, who cashed in her disability payments to help raise the funds, took family members to various ATMs and brought the greenbacks as requested.

Then the police had drug-sniffing dogs whiff the money, and because they barked “Cocaine!”, the police announced that the cash would not be acceptable as bail, and not only that, they were taking all of it as “instrumentalities of a crime.”

“But tests show that most U.S. money has traces of drugs on it!

“We’re taking the money.”

“But we just got the money directly from the bank!”

“We’re taking the money.”

But that’s just robbery!

Sure it is.

The Greers got a lawyer, gathered up bank receipts, and after four months of resistance, the police gave up on their little caper and the family got its money back. Experts, however, claim that this kind of trick works enough of the time that it’s worth a shot for budget-strapped police departments, as long as they have the ethics of John Dillinger….and too many of them do.

Why isn’t the Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, doing something about this? What about the Justice Department, assuming they aren’t too busy trying to make it easier for dead people to vote in the South by calling the requirement of photo IDs at the polls “racist”? Why aren’t the hearing-happy Republicans in the House having hearings about abuse of civil forfeiture? Why aren’t Bill O’Reilly, Anderson Cooper, and Rachel Maddow telling their audiences about it and trying to build some righteous outrage?

I don’t know the answers, but I do know this: Anyone who wants to entrust more power and resources to a government that permits police to inflict this kind of abuse on its citizens is deranged.


Pointer: Instapundit

Facts: Huffington Post


Graphic: Ripley’s New York

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

4 thoughts on “So Wrong It Defies Belief: The Green Bay Police Heist

  1. It’s probably because it’s too small time and operation for the feds to pay much attention to, right now. If you were a cash strapped federal outfit and you had to prioritize between a handful of corrupt cops up in cheeseland or something like the Detroit PD- or online child porn- what do you choose? For choose you must.

    For myself, I dearly hope that state or federal authorities clean up Green Bay. This sort of thing is an insult to every citizen and a personal affront to everyone who’s ever been in law enforcement.

  2. What I see happen often as a public defender is a forfeiture action is filed while a criminal proceeding is still pending. Usually the forfeiture action is for a few thousand dollars at most. Because it is a civil action, I am not appointed to represent the defendant, nor am I advised that it has even been filed. The hapless defendant doesn’t know what the civil paperwork means, and, for whatecer reason, never brings it to my attention. The case is ultimately dismissed or the defendant is found not guilty, but by that time, the court has already entered a default forfeiture judgment, and the state has the money to spend on whatever gadgets the prosecutor and the police department want to buy.

  3. I read this……thinking it was a new post. Turns out if is from 4 years ago. Funny how somethings in history repeat themselves. This article is as much about today as it was in 2012. SMH.

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