Members of the Hickman County Sheriff’s Office aren’t following state law on how they handle money they seize from criminal drug suspects.
They also aren’t following the rules on how they pay confidential informants.
This, according to an audit from the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office, released Friday.
Hickman County Mayor Shaun Lawson did not return The Tennessee Star’s requests for comment Friday.
County Sheriff Randal Ward also did not return our messages.
Auditors, though, discussed the problems in-depth.
“We judgmentally selected five cash seizures for review,” auditors wrote.
“All five deposits failed to comply with the state statute, because they were held from 15 to 69 business days before being deposited with the County Trustee.”
Sheriff’s officers, meanwhile did not complete several forms Comptroller require to document the use of confidential funds, according to the audit.
“We noted five payments to confidential informants that were missing the required second officer’s signature, one transaction where the payment receipt was missing, one transaction conducted by an agent that was not the custodian over the confidential funds, and two instances where the monthly report was not signed by the agent,” auditors said.
“These deficiencies exist because management failed to provide proper oversight, which resulted in increased risks of fraud and abuse.”
Comptrollers said in their report that officers must fill out required forms in their entirety at the time of the transaction. Only the custodian of the funds may disburse them. Additionally, they must deposit all funds with the county trustee within three days of collection, as state law requires.
In a written response to auditors, Ward said he will abide by Comptrollers’ recommendations.
The Tennessee Star and The Tennessee Watchdog have long documented case after case of police abusing their civil forfeiture powers and not keeping a proper inventory of what they had.
In one instance, according to a 2015 Tennessee Watchdog report, Morristown Police seized cars and demanded cash, which a police sergeant allegedly kept for himself — $6,000 in all.
More recently, according to The Star, members of the Caryville Police Department confiscated other people’s guns and tried to trade them before getting the proper permission.
Tennessee law said they can only hold onto those guns for 180 days, but they’d kept some of them a lot longer than that — for about 50 years.
Also, as reported, in 2011, the Wartburg Police Department seized a BMW sedan after arresting its owner on narcotics charges, and, according to an audit, the police captain’s wife used it at her house.
Tennessee law says the captain’s wife, a reserve officer, wasn’t supposed to use the car for anything other than drug enforcement purposes.
As The Star reported in September, Tennessee’s civil forfeiture laws remain among the least protective of property owners in the nation, according to a State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
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