We’ve all seen action movies in which the police action protagonist, hot in pursuit of a suspect, commandeers the car of an unsuspecting and flabbergasted driver and takes off with it, thoroughly trashing it in the process. One thing these movies have in common is that we never do learn how, or even whether the car’s owner gets his car back, or is even recompensed for it.
A recent incident involving a covert operation by the Drug Enforcement Agency, however, suggests an answer to this question. And anyone outside of the law enforcement community will not be happy to learn what it is.
The events in question began in Houston, Texas when a commercial truck that its owner thought was on its way for maintenance instead became the marijuana-transporting focal point of a shootout between law enforcement officers and members of the Los Zetas Mexican drug cartel. By the time it was over the driver of the truck – ostensibly employed by the owner of the truck company, but actually working undercover for the DEA – was dead, and the truck so riddled with bullet holes that it took months and more than $100,000 to repair.
None of this – the appropriation of the truck; the fact that the driver was working undercover; the use of the truck to carry illegal drugs in an attempted sting operation – was undertaken with the permission or even the knowledge of the truck’s owner.
When the DEA finally released the truck from impound, in the same condition that it was in when the gunfight was over, the truck owner sought compensation from the DEA after the DEA offered none. He was refused. He also attempted to make an insurance claim, but the insurer also refused to pay, citing the truck’s use in an undercover operation. Finally he filed a lawsuit in federal district court against the DEA to seek more than $6 million in compensation in the form of damages. And was denied yet again.
The basis of the government’s successful argument to the court was that the nature of clandestine law enforcement operations is discretionary, so much so that the need for secrecy trumps virtually any other consideration, including harm to innocent third parties.
There is apparently no requirement – constitutional, statutory, judicial or otherwise – for the government to seek permission to use private property in such an operation, and no requirement for the government to compensate the owner for damage or destruction of that property during the conduct of that operation.
In effect, the desired ends of an undercover operation serve as legal justification with no consideration given to the property rights of anyone whose property the government uses.
The trend toward the government abrogating to itself more power is one matter. Holding itself unaccountable in clandestine law enforcement activities when the exercise of that power causes harm up to and including death is something that most people are not prepared understand or contest. In such a situation, the best hope for justice, at trial or on appeal if need be, lies with legal counsel who can present the best possible case to hold it accountable for its actions. The Oklahoma Criminal Defense Lawyers at the Hunsucker Legal Group are those attorneys. Contact us today at 405-231-5600 for your free consultation.