Facing ACLU Lawsuit, Rhode Island Agrees to Return $860 to Wrongfully Accused Woman

October 15, 1999 12:00 am

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PROVIDENCE, RI — In a sudden reversal, Rhode Island officials today agreed to return the $860 dollars confiscated from a woman who was falsely arrested for drug dealing by a now-discredited “Strike Force” unit.

The reversal came three years after the state first refused to return the money — and three days after the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island filed a lawsuit on behalf of Providence resident Luz Rivera, demanding the money that was taken from her in 1995.

Rivera spent more than three months in jail awaiting trial on the drug dealing charge, which was dismissed after she provided proof that she was at work at the time she was allegedly conducting a drug deal in her apartment.

A few months after she was released, Rivera obtained a court order requiring the state to return the $860 that was seized from her home when police searched her apartment. After numerous unsuccessful attempts to reclaim her money, Rivera contacted the ACLU.

When the ACLU threatened to file a contempt motion against the state if it failed to comply with Rivera’s 1996 court order, the Attorney General’s office initially responded by filing a motion to have the order declared null and void.

The state’s position, according to ACLU volunteer attorney Thomas Mirza, was that Rivera’s money was lawfully forfeited under state law — because it was taken before the charge against her was dismissed and before the judge issued his 1996 order.

“It seems that when the state took a closer look at the case in preparing for our court hearing, common sense prevailed,” Mirza said.

Ms. Rivera is expected to get her money back within the next few days.

For more information on the issue of civil asset forfeiture, visit the national ACLU’s website at /features/nytimesad121198.html.

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