GREENFIELD — A Greenfield couple suing Indianapolis officials claims Marion County officers have been “policing for profit” when seizing property from suspected criminals — to the tune of about $1 million a year.
Jeana and Jack Horner of Greenfield are the lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which state police and prosecutors have padded their own budgets with the proceeds of civil forfeitures — assets confiscated by investigators when a person is suspected of wrongdoing, even if no criminal charges have been filed. Under the Indiana Constitution, that money should be funneled into the common school fund to support education.
The case names Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Chief Troy Riggs, among others, and claims city and county leaders have knowingly turned the forfeiture program into a revenue source, violating the state’s supreme law, the lawsuit states.
The Horners claim two of their vehicles were seized in 2013 after their son was pulled over in Marion County, and police found marijuana in the car. It took the Horners more than nine months to get their cars back, a process that required hiring a lawyer and going before a judge — despite the charges against their son being dropped, Jeana Horner said.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” she said. “No one would tell us where our cars were. No one would answer our questions.”
The Horners are one of three Central Indiana couples filing the lawsuit with help from the institute. Leading their legal team is attorney Sam Gedge, who said Indiana’s forfeiture law has been of interest to the institute for some time because of the lack of transparency in the law.
Police and prosecutors decide what property is seized, and they can keep the property for their department’s use or profit from selling it, according to a news release from the institute.
The Indiana Constitution states “the common school fund shall consist of … all forfeitures.” But a state statute “unconstitutionally empowers police and prosecutors to deduct law enforcement costs before delivering forfeiture proceeds,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit claims Marion County’s Prosecutor’s Office has made 1,600 forfeitures in the last five years — about two a day, Gedge said — that have resulted in millions of dollars in profits.
“… But police and prosecutors have sent not a single penny of civil forfeiture revenue to the common school fund in at least five years,” the lawsuit states.
Now, Jeana Horner just wants to make sure other families don’t fall victim to improper procedures by police, she said.
Rather than seeking money — the suit names damages in the amount of $1 — the plaintiffs are asking a judge to declare the state statute allowing law enforcement reimbursements unconstitutional or to hold Indiana officials accountable for deducting true law enforcement costs rather than claiming the whole sum, court documents state.
The Marion County Prosecutors Office and the Indianapolis Department of Public Safety did not return calls for comment. Hogsett’s office and Indianapolis Metropolitan Police declined to comment.