NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee filed a lawsuit in federal court today on behalf of a disabled veteran whose car was seized without cause by Mount Juliet police last September.
"I took an oath to defend our Constitution when I served in the military," said property owner and Vietnam veteran Lewis Cain. "I have the highest respect for law enforcement, but the Fourth Amendment has to mean something. Police officers can't just take people's property for no reason."
On September 18, 2017, officers from the Mount Juliet Police Department arrived at disabled veteran Lewis Cain's home with an arrest warrant for his son. The officers entered Cain's home and woke him up by shining a flashlight in his eyes. The officers later asked for the keys to his car. Confused but wishing to cooperate, Cain handed over the keys and officers opened his garage door and drove away in his 2009 BMW. When he objected, police told him that they were allowed to do so, despite the fact that they knew the car belonged to Mr. Cain and not his son.
Cain had not been accused of any crime and police had no warrant to enter his house or remove property from his home. The lawsuit asserts that the actions of the Mt. Juliet police violate the Fourth Amendment, which protects innocent property owners like Cain from unreasonable searches and seizures. Cain's due process rights were also violated, as he was not given notice of a fair hearing prior to seizure of his vehicle.
In January, ACLU-TN filed a complaint with the Department of Safety, arguing that the seizure without a warrant violated Cain's Fourth Amendment rights and that the officers had purposefully misrepresented Cain's son as the owner of the car in police reports, despite evidence that the son was not the owner. The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security agreed to voluntarily dismiss the case and return the vehicle to Cain.
"Mr. Cain is an innocent property owner with no connection to any alleged criminal activity. Police clearly violated his constitutional rights when they took his car without a warrant or hearing," said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director. "Unfortunately, Mr. Cain's case is another example of the way Tennessee's overly broad asset forfeiture laws invite, and even incentivize, abuse by law enforcement. We will continue to fight for meaningful reform to our state’s unfair civil asset forfeiture system so that no one else has to go through what Mr. Cain experienced."
A copy of the complaint filed today can be found at: http://www.aclu-tn.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Cain-Complaint-Final-Draft_Redacted.pdf.