On a February morning two years ago, police entered Scott Lee Anderson’s fraternity house room before dawn and handcuffed him on his bed. The then-TCU student was arrested on suspicion of selling pills and marijuana based on detailed accounts of his deliveries to an undercover officer. Police had tangible, hand-to-hand evidence.
But what happened next was carried out on a mere assumption.
The arresting officer knew “that those involved in narcotics sales sometimes use data processing equipment, such as a computers, smart phones and iPads to … facilitate drug transactions,” the 2012 affidavit said. “Therefore, the computer, iPad and iPhone were sought after and seized.”
And so began a winding legal road for Anderson, one of 23 people arrested as a result of a months-long investigation of a campus drug ring that came to a head Feb. 15, 2012. Almost all were current TCU students or had close ties to the university.
The criminal cases would end in a fizzle — Anderson got 48 months’ probation for two counts of delivery of marijuana, and the others all received probation, often followed by deferred adjudication, or a lesser punishment.
Still, as Anderson and other former students would find, the economic penalties of the drug arrests could far outweigh the results of the criminal cases.
The haul seized by police through civil asset forfeiture was substantial: $46,243 in cash; 15 cars, trucks and SUVs valued at more than $250,000; and nine weapons, according to an after-action report released five days after the slew of arrests.
Other assets picked up by police included iPhones, iPads, MacBooks and an assortment of cellphones — 36 items totaling around $17,650.
The items were seized before formal charges were filed and months before any convictions. Under state law, police have the power to seize items that might have been used in a crime or paid for with money from a crime.
A person doesn’t have to be convicted, or even formally charged, for police to take their assets and for the county to keep them.
“They make the arrest and ask questions later,” said Tim Evans, the attorney for Matthew Davis, one of the TCU students arrested.
Read the full story at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s website.
You can also read more on the TCU student journalists who worked together to write the story. Below is the Star-Telegram’s video on the students’ experience.