Mimesis Law
15 September 2019

OK Sheriff Bob Colbert: Busted When Policing for Profit Goes Too Far

October 21, 2016 (Fault Lines) – In December, 2014, Sheriff Bob Colbert and Captain Jeffrey Gragg made a traffic stop of Torell Wallace. During the stop, they found $10,000. When Wallace and his 17-year-old passenger said that it was their money, they arrested them for “Possession of Drug Proceeds.”[1] But the two officers advised the young men that if they waived their claim to the money, they could be on their way with the criminal charges “deleted.”

So, since they were facing prison terms, the men agreed, the sheriff was happy, and the Wagoner County,[2] Oklahoma Drug Forfeiture account was $10,000 richer. This is a profitable business for Wagoner County, as the Muskogee Turnpike runs through the county and is a known drug corridor.

What’s unusual about this case is that the Oklahoma Attorney General got indictments against the sheriff and his deputy, and is also pursuing removal of the sheriff from office. Both Colbert and Gragg were indicted for Conspiracy to Receive a Bribe, for Receiving a Bribe, and Extortion by Threats.[3]

Wait, what?

It’s not like Wallace was an upstanding citizen. He was on parole when he was stopped, and he pleaded guilty last year in federal court in Missouri for conspiring to distribute methamphetamine. And Colbert knows all about drug interdiction and civil forfeiture—before he was elected sheriff, he retired from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol where a good part of his duties involved drug interdiction and civil forfeiture.

You see, Colbert didn’t really care about prosecuting Wallace. He was in it for the money. Not for himself personally, but for the Sheriff’s Department. It is a practice that Oklahoma State Senator Kyle Loveless has been trying to change, to require a criminal conviction prior to any seizure and forfeiture. Naturally the cops disagree. Canadian County Sheriff Randall Edwards said that requiring a conviction prior to taking away a person’s property was “completely asinine.”

Of course, what Edwards isn’t saying is that his deputies have already seized upwards of $2,000,000, and that a state trooper made one stop in his county that seized $1,250,035 in alleged drug money. But Loveless is continuing to push for reform, citing the example of a Christian band that had $53,000 seized (and later returned), money that supported a religious college and an orphanage.

There is no way police are going to agree to this being changed. Hell, I used it to seize a Mustang Cobra from a meth dealer, although we didn’t cut him any deals. He went back to prison because when stopped, he had not only meth, but his entire lab set up in the back of the car.[4] We put anti-drug graphics on it and used it as a DARE car. There’s a difference in how we operated and how the “policing for profit” agencies work. A big difference.

What the policing for profit agencies do is find cash, not drugs, and then they seize the cash. It doesn’t matter that there is no explicit tie-in to criminal activity, they assume that anyone carrying thousands of dollars has the money from drug dealing or other illicit activity. And in a case like the one with Colbert, Gragg, and Wallace, the $10,000 likely came from drug dealing.

It would be nice if you were able to require some sort of proof for that idea. Instead of proof, what Colbert and Gragg did was threaten Wallace with prison if he didn’t give them the money. That’s extortion. Offering to let them go for $10,000, and then letting them go? That’s bribery.

That’s not rocket science. It’s policing for profit. And in 2014, police took more property from the public than burglars did. Police seized over five billion dollars. Burglars only managed to steal just under $4 billion.

Many people are getting tired of this “legalized” theft, including apparently, the Oklahoma Attorney General. Captain Gragg just pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge[5] in return for his agreement to testify against Sheriff Colbert.

My personal view is that Colbert is toast. He may have been able to slide by if Gragg stayed on his side, but not now. He would be smart to take a deal, but he won’t. He’ll be firm that he is on the right side of the drug war and won’t back down.

And, like British Admiral John Byng, Colbert will be figuratively taken out onto the deck and shot, to “encourage the others…”

[1] Punishable by 2 to 10 years and up to a $50,000 fine. Okla. Stat. tit. 63 § 2-503.1.

[2] Wagoner County is just north of Muskogee, east of Tahlequah, and southeast of Tulsa.

[3] Colbert and Gragg would face up to 25 years in prison and up to a $10,000 if convicted of all charges.

[4] Not much is needed for a lab. It’s not as complicated as Breaking Bad would lead you to believe.

[5] Gragg has to surrender his peace officer license, will do two years probation, and has to testify truthfully against Colbert. If he does all of that, he will be found not guilty and his record will be expunged.

4 Comments on this post.

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  • SCG
    21 October 2016 at 10:22 am - Reply

    I can only the tide is turning against this unconstitutional practice.

    • Greg Prickett
      21 October 2016 at 3:37 pm - Reply

      New Mexico has the new gold standard on forfeiture. To seize property there, there has to be a conviction, and the funds don’t go to the police, they go to the state’s general revenue fund. Most police departments are not going to do the extra work if they don’t get the money, so there’s almost no forfeiture there anymore.

      • SCG
        22 October 2016 at 9:48 am - Reply

        That is a great thing! About damn time time too. I am amazed the misplaced faith the courts have shown time and time again with the police and well the justice system in general. It’s as if some people think they stop being human when they put on their uniforms. They are very much human with all the foibles of us all.

  • Rick
    21 October 2016 at 9:48 pm - Reply

    That puts a smile on my face!