WASHINGTON – Today, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Ranking Member Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), and Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) issued a letter to Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenburg requesting details concerning the use of “cold consent” searches, particularly at transportation facilities.
The letter cites a report released by the Justice Department Inspector General earlier this year in January which examined the DEA’s use of “cold consent” searches – which typically entail an officer asking for consent to speak with an individual and, if the agent thinks it’s warranted, to seek consent to search their belongings. In some of these encounters, cash is seized.
As the Inspector General states, such “cold consent” encounters can raise civil rights concerns, and the Department of Justice itself recognizes that “cold consent” encounters are more often associated with racial profiling than contacts based on previously acquired information.
While not solely attributed to “cold consent” searches, as stated in the letter, “…from 2009-2013, DEA interdiction Task Force Groups seized $163 million in 4,138 individual cash seizures. 21 percent of these seizures were contested and in 41 percent of those contested cases all (or a portion) of the seized cash was returned – a total of $8.3 million.”
According to press reports, DEA agents seized $16,000 in cash from Joseph Rivers, a young African-American man who was traveling from Michigan to Los Angeles to film a music video. Mr. Rivers’ attorney states that agents boarded the train and began asking various passengers where they were heading and why. When Rivers replied that he was travelling to Los Angeles to film a music video, the agent asked to search his bag and Rivers complied. Despite the cash being in a bank envelop and the agents’ phone call to Rivers’ mother, who corroborated his story, the agents seized all of the cash. Rivers stated he was the only African-American passenger in his portion of the train and believes he was racially profiled.