Life After Asset Forfeiture: One Family’s Struggle to Reclaim Their Property

By October 11, 2016Criminal Justice

When Drug Task Force officers raided the home of Annette and Dale Shattuck, the couple had gone out for the evening, leaving their four children in the care of Annette’s mother. “During the dynamic entry, armed DTF officers wearing ski masks separated the children from their grandmother at gunpoint, shouting at her to get the dog under control or they would shoot it,” a court briefing filed on behalf of the Shattuck family claims.

According to Sheriff Tim Donnellon, who oversees the task force responsible for raiding the Shattuck’s home, the statement filed by the Shattuck’s attorney is a “misrepresentation of the incident.” In an interview, the sheriff stated that, “If you come in at a dynamic entry raid, you’re going to aim that gun at the parents. Children are going to be sat at a couch. There’s absolutely no way in hell would we point a gun at child on a couch.” Still, the Shattucks and their attorneys stand by their description of what happened on the night of the raid adding that, “The deputies kept the children lined up on the couch at gunpoint, refusing even to remove their masks to help calm the kids.” At the time of the raid, all four of the Shattuck children were under the age of ten.

Despite Donnellon’s claims that the raid was not nearly as dramatic or disruptive as the Shattucks have claimed, the Shattuck’s oldest daughter, now ten, has been in counseling for over a year and a half.

“If my kids are outside in my yard, they run into my house if they see a police officer,” Shattuck said. “They’re petrified.”

By now, many might be wondering what horrific crime the Shattucks were accused of committing, since such an intrusive police raid was executed on their home. In fact, neither Annette nor Dale Shattuck committed any crime. Furthermore, every single one of the charges originally brought forth against the couple, have all since been dropped.

What happened to the Shattucks’ home turned out to be the result of one giant misunderstanding, a misunderstanding the Shattucks are still dealing with today.

In light of a ballot initiative passed in Michigan in 2008, the Shattucks had decided to open a medical marijuana dispensary in 2014, something they had legal authority to do in their state. After working closely with local officials to ensure that all the proper permits and licenses were obtained, the Shattucks’ efforts and their careful compliance with Michigan laws earned them the respect of the chairman of the city’s planning committee, who publically thanked the Shattucks for their diligent work.

Since there has been tension between federal and state laws in regards to medical marijuana dispensaries, the Shuttucks decided to cover all their bases and even went as far as contacting the local Drug Task Force (DTF) to invite them to tour their dispensary.

However, something was lost in translation and the DTF was under the impression that they had received some sort of an anonymous tip about the Shattucks’ dispensary. DTF officers then setup stings where they posed as patients looking for medical marijuana. Now armed with probable cause, the DTF could proceed in executing a raid on the Shattuck home.

Civil asset forfeiture laws allow law enforcement officials to confiscate property and money belonging to a person suspected of a crime, without having to actually charge that person with a crime first. As a result, the Shattucks had many of their personal belongings taken from them, including a lawnmower, a bicycle, their daughter’s birthday money, and their marriage certificate.

In the American justice system, we believe in a presumption of innocence for all people facing criminal charges. However, when police officials are allowed to seize property from individuals who, under the law, are still presumably innocent, there is something seriously wrong with our criminal justice system.

To make matters even worse for the Shattucks, under current asset forfeiture laws, law enforcement officials are not even required to return the seized property after criminal charges are dropped. This has created a profit motive for law enforcement officials, who are often allowed to keep up to 100 percent of the confiscated property.

In the end, a judge ruled in favor of the Shattucks, citing their compliance with local state laws and “entrapment by estoppel” by the DTF in his decision. Even though all charges have been dropped, the Shattuck family is still struggling to reclaim their property back from the DTF.

“They had Annette’s lingerie strewn everywhere,” Annette Shattuck’s mother said in the briefing. “From the ceiling fan… Boxes and bags of food had been pulled from the cabinets and stepped on with their big boots.” She went on to say, “They took everything, the birth certificates, the adoption papers. There was nothing that they didn’t destroy, they ripped off facings of the cabinets, every picture was off the wall.”

Though Sheriff Donnellon continues to deny that the raid was conducted in such a confrontational and destructive manner, pictures taken by the Shattucks right after their home was raided appear to tell a story contradictory to that of the DTF.

Since law enforcement officials are not required to keep a record of the property they seize, it is easy for certain items to become displaced, which is what has happened with Annette’s birth certificate, the couple’s marriage certificate, and two of their children’s insurance cards.

Additionally, when some of their property was finally returned to them, it was returned in a state much different than it had been before the raid. Electronic devices were returned without power cords and remotes, both Annette and her husband’s phones had been smashed, and even though Dale’s gun safe was returned back to him, the key needed to open the safe is still MIA.

Sheriff Donnellon’s only comment in regards to the lost and damaged property was that it wasn’t intentional. Be that as it may, someone should be held responsible for what has happened to the Shattuck family. However, given the state of the asset forfeiture laws in Michigan, it is unlikely that anyone will ever be held responsible. In the meantime, the Shattucks can add their names to the list of innocent Americans who have had their lives turned upside-down because of civil asset forfeiture laws.

Author Brittany Hunter

Brittany Hunter is a Staff Contributor at Generation Opportunity.

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