Lawsuit against Indianapolis officials questions civil forfeiture

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GREENFIELD, Ind. (Feb. 10, 2016)- Policing for profit--that is the claim of a lawsuit filed against the mayor of Indianapolis, IMPD and the Marion County Prosecutors Office.

The lawsuit accuses Indianapolis officials of seizing property for financial gain.

Although those funds are often used as a revenue stream, this lawsuit argues the money should be going to Indiana schools and not law enforcement bank rolls.

"It all started when my son got pulled over driving a Jeep that we own," said Jeana Horner, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Horners son was pulled over while driving her car. He was in a work release program and borrowed his parents car.

"I believe they found some marijuana," said Horner.

The officer found weed inside the car. The Jeep along with another vehicle belonging to Horner were towed away. The property was seized as civil forfeiture.

"We didn't know where they took them, we didn't know why they took them, and I could not get anyone to give me any answers," said Horner.

"One of the most dangerous parts of forfeiture is that often times police and prosecutors have a direct finical stake in the laws they enforce. That’s what we call policing for profit, "said Sam Gedge, an attorney with the Institute for Justice.

Gedge represents Hornor and four others in the lawsuit.

"In Indiana, policing for profit isn't just wrong it's unconstitutional and that’s because the Indiana constitution could not be clearer that all forfeitures go to schools not law enforcement," said Gedge.

Gedge argues that forfeited items here in Indiana have not been turned over to the Indiana school fund as required by law. The fund is used to support public and charter schools.

"In Indianapolis police and prosecutors are actually keeping 100 percent of forfeiture proceeds for themselves giving zero dollars to schools for at least the last half decades," said Gedge.

Law enforcement in Indiana can seize property if there's reason to believe it's been used in a crime. A conviction is not needed or required.

CBS4 reached out to IMPD who deferred us to the city's legal department. A spokesperson for the mayor's office said they just received the lawsuit and were in the process of reviewing it.  At this point, they declined to comment on pending litigation.

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