County judge dismisses part of car seizure suit against drug task force Westminster women said authorities violated rights when vehicle was taken

March 11, 1996|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,SUN STAFF

An $80,000 lawsuit contesting the legality of the now-defunct Carroll County Narcotics Task Force's vehicle seizure practices has been partially dismissed.

The suit -- filed in June by Westminster homemaker Marie S. Boyd and her husband, Paul -- claimed task force members had lied to them and violated the couple's constitutional rights when their car was seized in May 1992.

At that time, Mrs. Boyd and her daughter, Diane L. Wisner, were returning from the grocery store when task force members stopped their car and found less than an ounce of cocaine in Ms. Wisner's purse. The car was taken and, the next day, the Boyds "bought it back" for $2,000.

In their suit, the Boyds claimed that an officer's statement that they would never get the car back was fraud. They also said the civil forfeiture statute is unconstitutional.

However, on March 1, Carroll County Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns rejected those arguments and dismissed all counts against former Carroll County State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman and Sgt. Andrew McKendrick.

Mr. Hickman said Friday that he expects the case against Tfc. Robert Heuisler of the Maryland State Police and former Assistant State's Attorney Barton F. Walker -- the other two individuals named in the suit -- to be dismissed during the next few weeks.

"We've maintained all along that the 'buy back' procedure is legal," Mr. Hickman said. "It is used all over the state. In this case, these allegations against us were baseless, and we're happy the court agreed."

Judith S. Stainbrook, Ms. Boyd's attorney, said she was disappointed, but not surprised that the case was dismissed.

"I was fairly sure that I was going to have to appeal this case from the beginning," she said Friday, adding that she is much more upset about a recent Supreme Court decision that a woman's car could be forfeited if her husband had sex in it with a prostitute.

The decision upholds property seizures even when the owner has no knowledge of the crime.

"That will affect all the forfeiture cases and, on appeal, we'll have to deal with that issue," Ms. Stainbrook said. "I made the decision to file here knowing that I'd probably have a better shot in federal court, maybe even have a better shot in another county. But I've always thought this was a Carroll County case. Carroll County needs to deal with this problem."

The "buy back" procedure, in which individuals repurchased their seized property before it was formally forfeited, was discontinued by Carroll County State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes within a year after he took office in 1994.

Mr. Barnes also set up guidelines limiting forfeitures to cases in which someone is charged with dealing drugs or possessing enough to show that they intended to sell the drugs.

At the time, Mr. Barnes said that "buy backs" did not really punish drug dealers because they allowed them to purchase their cars back. The guidelines were based on Court of Appeals rulings that seizures must be proportionate to the crime committed.

"It's really a shame that this procedure has been stopped in the county," Mr. Hickman said Friday, adding that he believes county drug trade has increased.

"There are now people from Carroll County becoming famous in certain streets in Baltimore and drug trafficking is wide open in Carroll County."

Pub Date: 3/11/96

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