James Gill’s recent column, “No presumed innocence when a Black man has cash” was an excellent piece on the ills of civil asset forfeiture. But it may surprise you that the issue strikes even closer to our lives in Baton Rouge when you consider the ongoing BRPD corruption investigation. Corruption only inflames the problems of civil asset forfeiture.

In September, as I finished a yearlong internship at the public defender’s office, BRPD restructured its internal divisions due to the unscrupulous behavior of detectives Jason Acree and Jeremiah Ardoin. In the final months of my time there, I spent days identifying cases involving officers at the center of multiple controversies. Eventually, my colleagues and I called clients, notifying them about their case and community expungement events. In those moments, issues with personal property became visible.

Over the phone, in-person, and second-hand from attorneys, clients described personal property — cash, tax refunds, phones, or laptops — being confiscated and never being returned, some even without a proper record of the seizure. Even if a client was eligible for a fee-free expungement, retrieving seized property requires more legal assistance for specific motions and hearings. I have no doubt that these issues can befall any defendant, but indigent clients have it the worst because there is no legal right to an attorney in civil forfeitures.

This isn’t to say all forfeitures are improperly conducted or all officers act with malicious intent; however, the ability to readily seize assets as part of an investigation presents an easy opportunity for exploitation by bad actors. Knowing that corruption still exists in our criminal legal system casts an even larger shadow over a questionable, if not dubious, practice.


LSU student

Baton Rouge