A North Carolina trucker has waged legal war against the entire police department of Phoenix, Arizona – after officers seized $39,500 in cash from him at a local airport alleging it was drug money.
The suit, filed in April by Triple J Trucking owner Jerry Johnson, demands the sum returned in full for what he slammed as ‘false accusations’ by the force, who seized the money during an August 2020 stop at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
Johnson, the owner and operator of his Charlotte-based business, alleges that the seizure was unfair, saying he had saved the money to purchase a new semi-truck.
Confident he could find a deal at an auction in Phoenix, the suit states, Johnson flew domestically with the cash from Charlotte to the Arizona city – but was quickly jammed up by detectives who questioned him about the perfectly legal haul.
The suit adds that during this supposedly routine stop, investigators became adamant that Johnson, a middle-aged black man, was in the process of laundering the money as part of an illegal drug trade.
Eventually, under the threat of arrest and further interrogation, Johnson cooperated with detectives by handing over the $39,500.. Cops have since refused to return the sum, standing by their initial assessment that the credentialed North Carolinian was using his business as a front.
On Monday, in a crucial development in the now years-long legal saga, a libertarian-leaning public interest law firm filed an appeal in Arizona on Johnson’s behalf – after the suit was tossed last year by a local judge. The amended complaint reveals that more than two years later, Johnson is still without his money, and has yet to be charged with a crime.
Triple J Trucking owner Jerry Johnson has waged legal war against the entire police department of Phoenix, Arizona – after officers seized $39,500 from him in 2020
The Phoenix Police Department, headed by Brian Sullivan, has since refused to return the sum, standing by their assessment that the credentialed North Carolinian was up to no good. Outside of arguments aired by the state, the force has yet to comment on the case
‘I flew to Phoenix thinking I could get a good deal on a truck that would allow me to expand my business,’ Johnson said in a press release issued by The Institute for Justice.
The statement offered the shocking update that more than two years after that today, more than two years after the contentious seizure, he is still without his cash.
‘Instead,’ the business owner went on, ‘the police took my money without ever charging me with a crime. It’s been a struggle to lose my savings, and now my business is barely getting by.
‘I’m fighting for my money, but I’m also fighting because this should never happen to anyone else.’
The department, meanwhile, has for the most part kept mum about the seizure, hiding behind local forfeiture laws that allow officers to seize items suspected of being connected to criminal activity even if the owner is not charged with a crime.
After hours of being detained, Johnson returned home the next day – without the money, and without the truck. He was never charged with a crime.
Johnson flew domestically with the cash from his home in Charlotte to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in August of 2020 – but was quickly jammed up by detectives who questioned him about the perfectly legal haul.
With that in mind, an Arizona judge presiding over the case last year ruled the cops’ actions were justified, citing supposed holes in Johnson’s story and circumstantial evidence offered by prosecutors that he said bolstered the department’s claims he had ill intentions with the cash.
Included in this evidence was an old criminal record boasted by Johnson, as well as the fact that he had bought the ticket relatively ‘last-minute’ with a quick turnaround.
The jurist also cited that officers had allegedly noted that during the 2020 encounter, Johnson displayed a ‘nervous appearance’ and demeanor, and was also found to be carrying three cell phones.
Johnson, the owner and operator of his Charlotte-based trucking business, alleges in his suit that the seizure was unjust. He said he had saved the sum to purchase a new semi-truck at an auction in the Arizona city
Prosecutors also claimed in court that cops had detected an odor of marijuana emanating from the cash – a claim that was not further substantiated aside from at least one account from an unspecified officer.
But, with Johnson’s and the institute’s appeal Monday, that judge’s ruling could soon come into question, with lawyers from the public interest firm citing that Johnson presented statements and tax returns to establish ownership and legitimacy of the money.
Despite this, the suit states, more than two years later, Johnson has not been charged with a crime, and therefore is entitled to the immediate return of his money.
Institute for Justice senior attorney Dan Alban cited state law that supports these demands in a press release Monday that accompanied his client’s suit, which demands the cash back as well as unspecified damages due to the negative effect the incident has befallen on his business.
The state passed reforms in 2017 to raise the evidentiary standards to allow airport forfeitures – from ‘a preponderance of evidence’ to ‘clear and convincing evidence.’
That precedent, however, has so far failed to help Johnson.
On Monday, in a crucial development in the now years-long legal saga, a libertarian-leaning public interest law firm filed an appeal in Arizona on Johnson’s behalf – after the suit was tossed last year by a judge. The complaint reveals that more than two years after the incident, Johnson is still without his money, and more importantly, has yet to be charged with a crime.
‘In Arizona, prosecutors are required to prove through clear and convincing evidence that money is connected to criminal activity before the property can be forfeited,’ Alban wrote in his statement.
‘But instead of holding the state to its burden of proving guilt,’ the jurist went on, ‘the court required Jerry to prove his own innocence.’
If the forfeiture is allowed to stand, Alban said, ‘it would create a dangerous loophole undermining Arizona’s efforts to protect property owners,’ including the state guidance ratified just a few years ago.
With that said, the institute, currently embroiled in several similar cases stemming from other legally questionable airport forfeitures, asserts that the outcome of Johnson’s case could have broad implications on Arizona’s asset forfeiture standards.
The Phoenix Police Department, which is headed by Chief Brian Sullivan, has not publicly commented on the case, and did not immediately return a DailyMail.com request for comment Sunday night.
In the interim, forfeitures at airports surrounding suspected crimes remain largely undefined – with a recent USA Today investigation finding that The DEA seized more than $209 million from at least 5,200 travelers in 15 airports over the past decade.
The case is currently ongoing, with the Arizona Court of Appeals expected to issue a response to Johnson’s legal team’s request in the coming weeks.