For Phelps County, Missouri, Seizing Suspects’ Assets Is ‘Like Pennies From Heaven’

A newly renovated red-brick jail is nearing completion. Low-milage squad cars patrol the roads. A new high-tech courtroom makes it easier to guard prisoners. Outside the courtroom are exercise equipment and a shoot, no-shoot training facility for officers.

All were funded by the cash and other property the Phelps County Sheriff’s Department has seized in the past decade from motorists traveling along Interstate 44, a major drug corridor passing through the county.

Phelps County deputies seized more than $1 million a year from cars on I-44, according to reports filed with the Missouri State Auditor and obtained by the Sunshine Law. Under the nation’s controversial civil asset-forfeiture laws, police can seize property they think is connected to a crime and later spend the cash on law-enforcement purposes.