Smelling like cannabis and buying your ticket right before your flight from this Florida airport are apparently great reasons for cops to take your stuff.
On June 17, Curtis Simmons was in the JetBlue kiosk area of Fort Lauderdale International Airport’s Terminal 3 when he was approached by two unarmed, plainclothes detectives. The 32-year-old from Elkridge, Maryland, had just purchased a ticket for a 7:15 p.m. non-stop flight to Los Angeles.
“I had missed my flight the day before and I had to rebook with a different airline,” Simmons said in an interview. “As soon as I printed out my boarding pass, they surrounded me.”According to a civil forfeiture complaint filed in Florida’s Broward County Circuit Court, Simmons was stopped by deputies with a narcotics and money laundering task force led by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. As they peppered Simmons with questions, the complaint states, he granted the cops permission to search his backpack and his carry-on suitcase. It was then that police allegedly “smelled a strong odor of cannabis” emanating from Simmons and the clothing inside his suitcase. The JetBlue traveler said he had smoked weed earlier, but wasn’t under the influence, and that although he didn’t have a medical card, he used cannabis to treat work-related pain, according to the complaint.
Cops didn’t turn up any weed, but they did find $6,290 in cash in Simmons’s pocket and another $5,000 in a pair of jeans in his carry-on, according to the complaint. A canine would confirm the presence of “narcotics” on the money and, after asking Simmons “direct and simple” questions, cops said, they determined he was “exhibiting signs of deception and untruthfulness.” The complaint claims Simmons lied about when he purchased his ticket, misled about how much money he had on him, and that he became visibly nervous, began to tremble, and continuously put his head down in an effort to avoid eye contact. Basically, that he started acting like a stoned teenager.
When police finished their impromptu interrogation, they told Simmons the $11,290 was being seized for civil forfeiture, the process by which law-enforcement agencies can take cash, homes and other property from people suspected of being involved in illegal activity without charging them with a crime. It’s a practice critics have long claimed police departments use to pad their own budgets and generally lends itself to abuse, one the Supreme Court sought to rein in earlier this year.As it turns out, people traveling to California who smell like weed and are carrying large sums of cash appear to be regularly getting their money taken away at Fort Lauderdale International Airport. A review by VICE of Broward County court records found the Sheriff’s Office has filed at least 15 other civil asset forfeiture complaints against 19 individuals since 2016, all under circumstances similar to those in Simmons’s case. Two seizures occurred the same week deputies took the money in Simmons’s possession.
In every one of the 16 recent complaints, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office alleges cops approached individuals seemingly at random, that their belongings smelled like cannabis, that they had purchased one-way plane tickets with a final destination in a California city on the same day or a few days earlier, that a police K-9 detected the odor of narcotics on the money they carried, and that they provided untruthful and evasive answers as to the source of their funds and the reasons why they were traveling to the Golden State. In some cases, the individuals also had multiple cell phones. For those reasons, the money was seized on the presumption the individuals may be involved in drug trafficking, the complaints state.
But a review of the complaints and Broward’s criminal court docket shows that only three people stopped by the task force were arrested for drug possession the same day they were stopped. None have been charged with a drug-trafficking crime.