by John Styf
The Tennessee chapter of Americans for Prosperity is pushing to reform the state’s forfeiture law after a former Knox County Sheriff’s Office supervisor was accused in a federal indictment of taking seized drug assets and using them for personal use.
Former Assistant Chief David Henderson, head of Knox County’s Narcotics Unit, entered a not guilty plea Friday in court, according to WBIR-TV.
Henderson is accused of using cash and narcotics unit credit cards for the purchase of personal items, including $138,000 worth of Apple products between 2011-2018, $13,000 in Yeti coolers, $2,200 for a Google Nest indoor security system and more, according to the report.
“This troubling indictment is a perfect example of why Tennessee needs to move from civil asset forfeiture to criminal asset forfeiture,” Americans for Prosperity Tennessee State Director Tori Venable said in a statement. “Such a move would curtail corruption, provide more transparency into police budgets, and protect taxpayers. Our law enforcement should not rely upon a process that threatens Tennesseans’ property to fund their budgets, and we urge the legislature to swiftly pass reforms.”
Senate Bill 2545 and House Bill 2525would make due process part of civil forfeiture by making seized items go in front a court of record. Real property, such as land and buildings on that land, no longer would be subject to seizure without a court order if the legislation passed.
The proposal allows for seizure without a court order under three scenarios: if the property was seized as part of a lawful arrest, if the prosecuting authority has probable cause to believe a delay in seizure would result in destruction or removal of the property or if the property being seized is subject to a prior valid judgment of forfeiture.
When a seizure does occur, the proposed law calls for an itemized receipt to be issued to the person whose property was seized. That person also would have the right to a prompt post-seizure hearing.
At that point, the property would be returned if the person is not charged with a crime, the seizure is determined invalid, the seized property is not required as evidence or the judge finds that the final judgment will likely be in favor of the defendant.
SB 2545 has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee and awaits a hearing. HB 2525 is in a House Criminal Justice Committee subcommittee.
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Jon Styf is an award-winning editor and reporter who has worked in Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida and Michigan in local newsrooms over the past 20 years, working for Shaw Media, Hearst and several other companies. He is a regular contributor at The Center Square.
Photo “Former Assistant Chief David Henderson” and “Knox County Sheriff Narcotics Seizure” by Knox County Sheriff’s Office.