Three people have taken action in Chicago federal court to allege the Kane County Sheriff’s Office is running a racketeering enterprise – and running roughshod over the U.S. Constitution in the process – by pulling over drivers, falsely arresting and searching them, and confiscating their cash and cars for the benefit of Kane County.
America Martinez and Rodolfo Tapia, both of Kentucky, and Ismael Jaimes-Meza, of Minnesota, filed a 15-count complaint Feb. 15 in U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois against Kane County and Kane County Sheriff's Office deputies identified as Sgt. Hain, Sgt. Flowers and Deputy Sheriff Gatske, as well as other unknown deputies.
The complaint alleged defendants violated the U.S. Racketeer-Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and state laws regarding battery, false arrest and false imprisonment. The court action stemmed from encounters between plaintiffs and Kane County sheriff's deputies last spring.
On April 15, Tapia was driving through Kane County, with Martinez and Meza as his passengers, when Sgt. Hain allegedly stopped the vehicle, purportedly because of a handicapped placard on the rearview mirror and a global positioning system unit on the windshield, the complaint said. Tapia was cited and during the stop, Deputy Gatske and other deputies came to the scene.
Deputies allegedly searched the vehicle without Tapia's consent, patted down Tapia and searched Meza and Martinez, plaintiffs said. A deputy allegedly seized $5,118 in cash and a debit card with a $566 balance that were found in Meza's pocket. Meza said the cash was from a tax refund. All three were taken to the sheriff's office and the vehicle was also seized.
At the sheriff's office the three were allegedly strip searched – Meza by Sgt. Flowers, the other two by unknown deputies. The suit made no further mention of Meza from this point forward in the narrative, but does say Martinez and Tapia were then photographed, fingerprinted, forced to change from their street clothes into orange jump suits and locked in cells. They alleged they were not read their Miranda rights and Martinez asked to make a phone call, but was refused, because she was told she was not under arrest. Martinez and Tapia were released the following day.
Plaintiffs alleged police had no grounds to search them or the vehicle. As far as the strip searches, they said deputies breached state law by not obtaining authorization from a superior for the strip searches and for afterwards, not filing a report on the searches.
Plaintiffs said deputies did not find any illegal or suspicious items and none of the plaintiffs were charged with a crime.
One month after this incident, Hain again allegedly stopped a car driven by Tapia, with Martinez a passenger, and searched the car without consent, finding nothing. Plaintiffs contend Hain had no justification for this traffic stop and search.
Plaintiffs claimed they are not alone, that sheriff’s office deputies have engaged in a “widespread practice” of extending traffic stops without good reason, seizing money and property from motorists, and falsely arresting them, but then conspiring to "cover up" the arrests by characterizing the arrests as “investigative holds.”
Plaintiffs alleged this practice represents a “racketeering enterprise” that involves robbery, false imprisonment, intimidation, obstruction of justice and interference with commerce – allegedly done with the county's knowledge and encouragement. The county has gained millions of dollars by these activities, the complaint maintained.
Plaintiffs noted Sgt. Hain is employed by Desert Snow, a company they said trains police to prolong the legally justified duration of traffic stops, conduct vehicle searches without warrants or consent and to aggressively seize assets through such stops that can be forfeited to authorities. Plaintiffs quoted Hain as saying, forfeitures could be a “tax-liberating gold mine” and government can “pull in expendable cash hand over fist.”
In addition, plaintiffs said Kane County has paid Desert Snow to train Hain. Further, the owner of Desert Snow also allegedly owns a company called Black Asphalt, which runs a database in which police from around the country allegedly share information on motorists. According to plaintiffs, Black Asphalt is “controlled” and hosted by Kane County, with Hain the “point of contact for Black Asphalt.”
Plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages. They are represented by the Blake Horwitz Law Firm of Chicago. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Ronald A. Guzman.
The asset forfeiture law in Illinois allows police to seize money and property if police can link them to criminal activity, such as drug dealing. However, no one necessarily needs to be criminally charged in connection with the money or property. Such forfeited assets are divided up among law enforcement agencies, but with the lion's share going to the police agency that seized the assets. Property, such as a car, can be used for law enforcement purposes or sold, with the money to be used to fight crime.