Civil forfeitures at center of 2 lawsuits against Saginaw County

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SAGINAW COUNTY (WJRT) - (01/10/17) - Police taking money and property - civil forfeitures are at the center of at least two lawsuits against Saginaw County.

Now, a research institute tells ABC12 News it's time to change the laws to protect your rights.

Civil forfeitures - that's where people are accused of crimes and have their property taken.

It happened to Steven Ostipow, who was sentenced to prison for drug crimes, but it also happened to his parents, who were convicted of nothing, but still had their property seized by the government.

A Saginaw County judge has ruled some of the parent's property should be returned, and the case is in court.

“Civil forfeiture is bad, it should be eliminated and we should replace it with criminal forfeiture,” said Jarrett Skorup, with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Skorup says the Ostipow case is an example of why Michigan's civil forfeiture law should be changed.

“You should convict someone of a crime first before trying to seize, take their assets,” he said.

He also sees problems with the latest controversial civil forfeiture, where a Genesee County man forfeited property to a Saginaw County detective in February 2014.

“All we know is the police never pressed charges against him, never convicted him, yet they ended up with over $20,000 in cash and some of his property, and that should raise a lot of eyebrows for people,” Skorup said.

A Saginaw County deputy is suing the county, saying he was retaliated against and reassigned for questioning how that $22,000 was spent by the department.

Sheriff Bill Federspiel says his department was following court orders in both cases.

“The courts will then decide whether or not the money is to be awarded to the Saginaw County Sheriff's Office, or whether it is awarded back to the person it's been taken from,” Federspiel said.

Skorup says he's hoping civil forfeitures will end soon.

“There are a lot of new, especially incoming legislators that are really interested in this issue and requiring a conviction before losing their property,” Skorup said.

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