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Tenn. Attorneys say law enforcement wrongfully benefits from drug seizures

(WZTV)

Several local attorneys told an Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on Monday that law enforcement is unfairly benefitting from seizing drug property.

Officers are legally allowed to seize money and property believed to be involving in the drug trade even if no charges are filed.

Nashville Attorney Elliott Ozment believes too many agencies are abusing the process for their benefit.

"It is legalized theft," Ozment said. "What happens to that money is it goes into a special kitty that pays their salaries and enables them to hire their friends."

Ozment said his immigrant clients are especially vulnerable because they keep their money in cash. The committee is gathering information to determine if the laws are unfairly targeting other groups as well.

"There's concern about any civil rights implications for communities of color; low income, low asset communities that don't have the wherewithal to challenge the taking of their property," said Committee chair Diane Di Ianni.

At Monday's meeting, the committee also heard from members of law enforcement who support forfeiture laws as a tool to fight the drug trade.

One member of the Metro Police Department told committee members the department puts a lot of effort to make sure drug seizures are fair.

"All the money we seize that has to do with narcotic crime is put back for investigative purposes," the officer said.

The committee plans to use Monday's testimony to make recommendations to the Commission on Civil Rights.

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