Mansfield must return almost $16K after traffic stop

Story from Mansfield News Journal –


MANSFIELD — The city says it will return the $15,943 police found on a man involved in a traffic crash March 11. But Calvin Caldwell’s attorney said the issue points to a larger problem.

Attorney James R. Willis of Cleveland claims police and prosecutors unlawfully seized money from Caldwell twice in the past three years. He said a pattern exists in certain cities, in which law officers repeatedly confiscate cash they find on prior felons and other people they are suspicious of, even if they did not catch that person committing a crime.

On March 11, Caldwell was in a vehicle when it was struck by another car at South Main Street and Chilton Avenue.

“As I understand it, some woman hit him,” Willis said. “He was not at fault. The car was totaled.”

After police responded, they learned Caldwell was wanted on a bench warrant — issued a little less than two weeks before the crash — citing him with failure to appear for transport to prison for a 2010 drug possession conviction. The lawyer said his client was a local business owner who had been out on bond waiting for an appeal, “running around Mansfield all this time,” and was not a fugitive.

“He had on him $15,000 … $16,000 … and for no reason, police tried to take that money,” the attorney said. “He tried to give it to his wife at the jail, and they wouldn’t let him do that.”

Not the first time

On Aug. 4, 2010, — after driving a van past a known drug house — Caldwell was stopped because his taillights weren’t lit, according to court documents.

A summary of his case in the Fifth District Court of Appeals ruling issued in October 2011 showed Officer Terry Rogers told Caldwell he would issue a minor citation if his personal information checked out with no legal issues. But after Caldwell began looking around the vehicle and moving his hands around, Officer Phil Messer Jr. initiated a pat-down search, discovering $7,000 to $8,000 in Caldwell’s pocket.

Caldwell told officers he had just been released from jail, and had a sheriff’s receipt for the cash.

He was charged with possession of crack after police found the receipt under a bag that seemed to contain drugs. He was found guilty of drug possession in a January 2011 jury trial.

Both Judge James Henson and eventually the Fifth District Court of Appeals ruled the city had to give that money back.

Henson said all money taken from Caldwell at the time of the drug arrest should be returned, except for enough to cover his court fine, if convicted.

Caldwell’s appeal of that conviction failed. But the appeals court ruled all seized money had to be returned. A 5th District panel said although earlier court cases through the early 1980s had allowed courts to keep some seized money, to ensure payment of fines and court costs, laws that allowed that “have since been repealed.”

Willis said police have to show reason to take money they find, “(but) it is routinely done (by police) in Cleveland and Akron for sure — and I guess Mansfield, as well. In Mansfield, they think if a guy’s got money on him, it must be crooked money.”

Chief responds

Mansfield police Chief Dino Sgambellone denies that.

“All seizure cases are reviewed either by the law director or the prosecutor’s office,” Sgambellone said. “If either office determines that money needs to be returned to the individual, it is.”

When police officers find money or other possible evidence of a crime during the lawful performance of their duty, the law allows them to seize that property “pending a more thorough review by the court,” he said.

Caldwell, now 54, is serving a one-year sentence in Lorain Correctional Institution for the 2011 conviction. He is due for release Dec. 16.

On April 1, through his attorney, Caldwell filed a civil action against the Mansfield Police Department in Richland County Common Pleas Court seeking the return of his nearly $16,000 seized after his traffic accident.

Mansfield Law Director John Spon said the city plans to return the money. After that happens, it’s likely Caldwell’s court action will be dropped, he said.

Spon said the $15,943 was taken legally, when investigators looked into the circumstances surrounding a large amount of cash found at the scene. Since no criminal charges were pursued against Caldwell, police and prosecutors jointly decided prior to the April 1 filing of the lawsuit that Caldwell’s money should be returned, he said.

“Any time there is a large amount of cash being transported, and if there is any event which allowed officers to become aware of that, then an inquiry is made,” Spon said.

If the person who had the cash is charged with possessing drugs or other criminal offenses, the city may file with a court to seize the cash, he added. Traffic violations would not meet that criteria, he said.

The money will be returned because “the general rule is that law enforcement cannot seize and ultimately acquire from the purported owner cash from a vehicle, unless it meets the legal requirement for criminal cases,” the law director said.

Spon said Thursday there is no threshold for the amount of cash, and said police might in some circumstances seize amounts as low as $1,000.

“What’s taken is based on the totality of the circumstances,” he said. “It’s subject to a judgment call. The higher the amount, the more suspicious it is.”

The $15,943 is in the crime lab’s possession, he said.

Caldwell’s court filing seeking the $15,943 named the Mansfield Police Department, Sgambellone and Patrolman Terry Butler as defendants.

The police chief said officers are trained in circumstances that allow for seizing cash, and if they are unsure, they can check with supervisors or prosecutors.
Twitter: @MNJmartz


  • Serena Smith· Top Commenter

    A dude walking around with that much cash in his pocket is usually up to no good

    • Lisa A. Cole · Top Commenter · Lexington, Ohio

      I will second that^^^^^^
    • Tim D. Metcalfe · Top Commenter · 1099 at Independent Contractor

      But does that justify/authorize the Police to confiscate it? Whatever happened to being inocent till PROVEN guilty? – Tim gets my vote!
    • Bill Konves· Top Commenter

      Or on his way from the bank to the airport for a trip to Las Vegas… But, it sure does not mean they can take it. The problem is “Any time there is a large amount of cash being transported” There is no definition of what is large. What is large to one person is not to another. – Truth!
  • Donna Holmes · Works at Retired RN

    For whatever reasons he had the money they have no right to take it! I thought we were living in a free country. – That’s what many of us think!

  • Peggy Goldberg · Top Commenter · Ships Captain at Maersk Line Shipping Company

    Drugs and cash means dealer, period. However if they cant prove where the money came from they cant take it. Cash greedy cities are getting ridiculous. – Interesting?

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