A Kentucky farmer and former GOP Kentucky state House of Representatives candidate had his $40,000 Ford F-250 pick-up truck seized by Customs and Border Patrol agents two years ago at the U.S.-Mexico border – and he still doesn’t have it back.
It has been two years since Serano had his truck seized, but he never had it returned despite having to pay insurance fees, license fees and $673 in monthly payments.
Gerardo Serano, a U.S. citizen, was stopped by Customs and Border Patrol agents after they noticed he was taking pictures at the border. They demanded he turn over his cell phone to them and show them the pictures.
“I just wanted the opening of the bridge. I was gonna take the opening of the bridge, the entrance of the bridge. That’s all I wanted to do,” Serano told Fox News.
According to Serano’s lawsuit, one of the agents unbuckled Serano’s seatbelt and yanked him out of the vehicle.
Serano refused to give up his cell phone, saying that he knew it was legal for him to refuse their request.
“You need a warrant for that,” Serano told the agents, who proceeded to search his truck.
The agents found five bullets in a magazine clip that Serano forgot to take out before heading to the border. Serano has a permit to carry a firearm.
“We got you,” one border patrol agent told him, Serano told Fox News.
The agents seized his truck, but Serano was never arrested or charged for any crime. Serano said he was kept in a locked cell for three hours before being let go.
Serano’s attorneys at the Institute for Justice told him that Customs and Border Patrol told them the truck was used to “transport munitions of war” and that it was seized as part of the government’s Civil Asset Forfeiture program.
“Civil forfeiture laws are inherently abusive and this case proves it,” said Robert Everett Johnson, an attorney at the Institute for Justice. “Despite the attempts of law enforcement officials to suggest there are safeguards on civil forfeiture, this case — along with hundreds of other cases — demonstrates that there are not. No just system would allow law enforcement to keep property for years without some kind of hearing before a judge.”
“When the agents told me they were seizing my truck, I said ‘No, you’re not seizing my truck, you’re stealing my truck!'” Serrano said. “I didn’t think that this could happen in America. I thought it was only countries like Cuba or Venezuela that would treat their citizens this way.”
The truck was seized under the laws of civil asset forfeiture, meaning that no criminal charge or conviction is needed to take property that is believed to be connected to a crime.
Fox News reported that the Civil Asset Forfeiture program defies the Fourth Amendment, which says: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, said he thinks the program is unfair.
“There are instances of people, young people, getting some money and saying, ‘I’m moving to California from Boston.’ They’re stopping in some small town in Nevada, and they have a thousand bucks their dad gave them to get started,” Paul told Fox News. “And the police just take it and say: ‘You prove to us that this isn’t drug money.'”
Several House Republicans and Democrats showed support for legislation against asset forfeiture.
“We have a free-standing bill that says the government shouldn’t take peoples’ property without a conviction, that the burden is on the government that you actually agreed to commit a crime,” Paul told Fox News.
“The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution exists to protect the citizens of this country from being deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. In practice and in principle, adoptive forfeiture is a violation of that Fourth Amendment,” Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii, said.
Serano is suing Customs in an effort to get his truck back and prevent this situation from happening again.
“Of course I want my truck back, but that’s not why I’m filing this lawsuit,” Serrano told the Institute for Justice. “I’m doing this for my children and the thousands of other Americans who should never have to go through what I’ve gone through.”