Sheriff's Office Seizes Citizens' Cash, Guns Through Unclaimed Property Law
TULSA, Oklahoma - The Tulsa County Sheriff's office wants to dispose of some property seized during investigations, even though sometimes the property was never connected to a crime.
It's a joint investigation by News On 6 and our partners at The Frontier.
A group of people plans to sue, arguing the sheriff is improperly using unclaimed property laws. Some of the people coming out of Judge Mary Fitzgerald's court were happy, like Samuel Morgan Junior.
He's getting back $868 seized when he was arrested during a traffic stop.
"I just know they took it, and it was a Christmas present well needed and well deserved," Morgan said.
But Tekesha Harris won't get the $1,000 she had given a boyfriend before he was arrested in 2008. Harris said, "I gave him the money to go shopping and pay some bills."
Both cases - and more than 700 others - involve property held by the sheriff's office: $170,000 just in cash, but also guns and other valuable property. The sheriff's office wants to convert it all to cash and keep the proceeds.
Attorney Thomas Mortensen told News On 6 partner The Frontier the sheriff's office can't label seized property as abandoned - in order to keep it without proving the connection to a crime.
"They might have been in the same vehicle as someone arrested in a drug offense and whatever is on them is seized and now apparently the standard in Tulsa County is that you have to come in here to prove your case," said Mortensen. "There's no forfeiture filed and you've got to wait ten years to do it."
Sometimes there is no crime. In 2008, Jaime Pritchard's father committed suicide and all guns in the house were seized. She's trying to get them back - but doesn't have receipts.
Pritchard said, "After my dad passed away in 2008, we had a house fire in 2009, and lost all of his stuff, so we don't have anything of my dad's."
She didn't get a decision - and has to come back to court to continue fighting for what was taken from their home.
But most cases do involve an arrest. The sheriff's office says it doesn't want the property and will return anything where ownership can be proven.
The attorney says that's not what the law says - so he's fighting to change the way the sheriff gets rid of seized property.