ACLU files suit over asset forfeiture policies

State law enforcement agencies keep millions of dollars from property seized; some property owners are not suspects in a crime. Is that right? It's a question that the ACLU says no to, calling the practice unconstitutional.

The organization on Wednesday filed a big lawsuit hoping to change the practice.

Some states use asset forfeiture funds for education or to a general fund. In Arizona, the law enforcement agencies, seizing the property can keep the funds.

If the ACLU wins the case, it could prompt changes to that practice across the state.

"It's essentially policing for profit, they are focused more on their own personal gain, and how much profit they can make rather than crime fighting," said Alessandra Soler, with the AZ ACLU.

Soler says the asset forfeiture has paid for everything from police salaries, to the Pinal County Attorney's security system.

In 2013, PCSO deputies seized a truck worth $6,000. The owner, Rhonda Cox was never suspected in any crime, but her son was accused of stealing the hood placed on the truck. When Cox tried to get her truck back, she had to prove her right to the property.

"It kind of turns the concept innocent until proven guilty on it's head, because the laws give the police the ability to take your property, even if you did nothing wrong, even if you haven't been convicted of a crime," said Soler.

According to court documents, Cox had to pay a $304 filing fee and was told she would be liable for the state's attorney fees if she lost. She gave up her fight, and the ACLU says she never got her truck back.

"The process is setup to make it extremely difficult for you to get your property back," said Soler.

The lawsuit is asking for the value of the truck, and for a judge to stop agencies from keeping asset forfeiture proceeds.

FOX 10 reached out to the PCSO and PCAO, both offices say they cannot comment due to pending litigation.

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