|An exterior view of Darren Richardson’s BMW after cops pried it apart looking for marijuana
Sometimes they have to destroy your car in order to save you from weed that isn’t even there. New Jersey police caused more than $12,000 worth of damage to a BMW 325i, tearing the vehicle apart in a frenzied search for marijuana. After tearing off the dash, doors, seats and even prying up the exterior body panels, they didn’t find so much as a roach.
The impotently frustrated Pompton Lake cops impounded Darren Richardson’s 2004 3-series Beamer after claiming they smelled “a strong odor of marijuana” during a routine traffic stop, reports Wes Siler of Jalopnik
When Richardson’s car was returned — days later — he found the dash cut apart, the seats slashed, the console pried open and the bumpers and other body parts pulled off the vehicle. His insurance company, GEICO, estimated the damages at $12,636.42, more than he’d paid for the car — which was designated a total loss.
The instrument cluster and leather dashboard were gone, reports James Queally at The Star-Ledger
. The gear shift was ripped out and stray wires were hanging everywhere.
|After officers claimed they smelled marijuana in Richardson’s car, they tore up, I mean “searched” the vehicle, causing $12,000 in damages and resulting in a total loss
The sorry incident has led to an internal affairs investigation by the Pompton Lakes Police Department, opening the door for expensive litigation which could cost local taxpayers thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, experts wondered why the department was wasting time and resources in pursuit of what many see as a minor crime.
“The root of these problems, with the drug laws, is sometimes they (police departments) can’t distinguish between the Medellin cartel and somebody smoking a spliff,” former Assistant District Attorney Eugene O’Donnel pithily told NJ.com
. O’Donnel, also a former cop, now teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan.
“They went way beyond the scope of this,” said Jeffrey Gold, a criminal defense attorney who taught search and seizure courses at the Burlington County Police Academy. “Once they got into it, they started tearing the car apart. They made it worse, in the hopes they would make it better by striking gold.”
Richardson, 28, of Wanaque, N.J., has filed a claim against the police department for false arrest and malicious prosecution. GEICO may also sue the cops to recover their loss on the vehicle.
A police spokesman claimed the department offered to pay Richardson before he submitted the insurance claim.
“The (department) agreed to pay the damages,” said Detective Sgt. William Jernstedt. “Richardson said he was going to deal with his insurance company, so when the insurance company totaled it, it became an internal investigation.” Jernstedt declined further comment.
The vehicle had originally been pulled over by Lt. Moises Agosto on September 23 after Richardson allegedly almost caused a wreck. When he showed up on the records as having served two years in the past for drugs, a K9 unit was brought to the scene and alerted on the presence of drugs in the vehicle’s trunk.
Unable to find any illicit substances, the cops impounded the vehicle and called in a federal drug task force to do an, um, “comprehensive search” of the vehicle. (You know, the kind where asshole cops can’t find anything to get you for, so they get pissed off and destroy your property.)
“The way they were acting, their whole demeanor, and the way I was antagonizing them, I knew they were going to mess with me,” Richardson, who admits he “doesn’t trust cops,” said.
Both he and his passenger found themselves in handcuffs by the end of the argument, and were initially hit with a variety of bullshit charges including evidence tampering, resisting arrest, and “making terroristic threats.” All of those were downgraded to “petty disorderly persons offenses” of the type that will be heard in municipal, not criminal court, i.e., the cops don’t have shit they can pin on Richardson.
“This is a great illustration of the costs of this kind of enforcement, which yielded nothing for public safety, said Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “All those resources went for something that most Americans don’t even think should be a crime.”