A state senator who has authored a controversial bill to reform the state’s drug forfeiture laws is convening an interim legislative study on the issue Sept. 1.
Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City, said in an interview that the study will feature national experts on civil forfeiture, attorneys, law enforcement agents who support reform and those who say they are victims of civil forfeiture abuse.
Law enforcement and district attorneys are pushing back against Loveless, however, saying Senate Bill 838 and similar measures would harm their ability to fight the drug war. At an Oklahoma District Attorneys Council meeting in Oklahoma City on Thursday, some officials said they are preparing presentations against Loveless’s proposed bill.
One of them, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, accused Loveless of hiding information from the state’s district attorneys or lying about it.
“If he has the truth on his side, Sen. Loveless can be open and honest with us right now, since we’re trying to ask about what it is and if there’s truly an issue, we’ll deal with it,” Prater said. “But he’s playing hide the ball, playing games, lying to the public, so why will he not give us case numbers and case names?”
Loveless said cases of abuse do exist, but some of the victims are afraid to speak out against law enforcement. Loveless said court records show many cases where a judge has ruled seized property or cash must be returned to the owner.
“It’s interesting that the reaction has been so vitriolic,” Loveless said.
The issue has rankled law enforcement officials and district attorneys who said there is no evidence of widespread abuse of civil asset forfeiture.
During Thursday’s meeting, District 4 District Attorney Mike Fields, who heads the council’s asset forfeiture committee, said he and the committee are working to rebut Loveless’ claims of innocent people having money seized by law enforcement under the guise of drug enforcement.
“There are no widespread systemic abuses currently within our system,” Fields said. “It’s just not happening. No evidence has been or, I believe, can be brought forward to support that claim.”
District attorneys and other law enforcement officials have been working to educate the public and legislators on the matter, Fields said, such as attending events that Loveless is speaking at to offer their perspective. The committee is also preparing its presentation for Loveless’s interim study hearing.
“We’re working with our partners to coordinate our efforts and make sure we’re all going on the same road and secondly to coordinate our message to directly counter and rebut the generalizations and misinformation that’s being pushed by proponents of Sen. Loveless’s legislation,” Fields said.