Asset Forfeiture and Perverse Incentives (PERSONAL STORY)
A Philadelphia couple and two other plaintiffs are suing the district attorney, the police department, and their city government for seizing their homes. Their plight is an instructive — and frightening — example of how bad incentives in law enforcement can wreak havoc on innocent people.
On May 8, Christos Sourovelis took his son to court-appointed rehab following his arrest in March for selling a mere $40 in drugs outside his parents’ home. It was during this trip that Christos received a call from Markela, his wife, stating that the police had returned to their house — with the intent to seize it. Already reeling from taking his son to rehab, he now listened helplessly as his panicked wife tried to keep police from removing her from their home.
What had Christos and Markela done? They had caught the attention of Philadelphia’s Public Nuisance Task Force, a unit that allows city prosecutors to seize homes, cars, cash, and other property they claim are involved in drug or alcohol-related crime.