Personally, I think the reporter is being too kind to the police when he takes at his word the attorney who says
"They went way beyond the scope of this," said Jeffrey Gold, a criminal defense attorney who taught search and seizure courses at the Burlington County Police Academy. "Once they got into it, they started tearing the car apart. They made it worse, in the hopes that they would make it better by striking gold."In fact it is highly plausible that the police decided they were going to crush this obnoxious little f*cker who got in their faces at the traffic stop and just decided to wreck his vehicle on the pretext of "searching" it, and they have been entirely and unpleasantly surprised by the fact that there have been any consequences for them. Given that the police enjoy a kind of de facto immunity when it comes to misconduct of this sort, they have every right to be.
Think about it for a moment. You're out driving around on a Saturday night with a friend and get pulled over for a burnt out tail light or something. The cops decide they don't like you and start trash-talking you, one thing leads to another, and on Monday morning there you are, without your car. You also are staring at charges of evidence tampering and resisting arrest. This is serious stuff you're facing, and for no other reason that you didn't lick the cops' boots when they started in on you. It
canwill seriously disrupt your life, if your life is that of the majority of Americans: How are you going to get to work with no car? And dealing with those false criminal charges, what about the time off work for that? Not to mention the lawyer's bills, or the towing and storage fees you'll have to pay to get your car back. Just getting busted, with no charges ever making it to court, can be a pretty heavy blow to someone living paycheck-to-paycheck with no employment security. And that's before it turns out that the cops have totally wrecked your car, just for kicks.
The police know this, of course, and while they will not trash someone's life like this for nothing (after all, doing the deed involves some effort and paperwork on their part) nothing seems to urge the fullest exercise of these extralegal powers like the smell of pot, real or imagined. And while trashing a citizen's life is not effortless for the police, it is generally almost entirely without risk of adverse consequence. After all, the Supremes have said that it's OK for a prosecutor to convict a guy on a capital charge, then keep him on death row for 14 years, all the while possessing evidence that the guy was not guilty and knowing that the defense was unaware of that evidence. That's not prosecutorial misconduct against which the convicted guy has any recourse, so why should a cop worry about a little thing like throwing somebody out of work, or destroying the most valuable thing he owns?
I'm surprised that Geico paid out for Richardson in this case. The theme of the police using a "search" to destroy the property of a "drug suspect" is a well-worn one, and I have heard of houses being rendered uninhabitable in this way, with no recourse for the victims. It will be interesting to see how this eventually plays out. If it does go to court the cops will have a different sort of opponent than they're used to in cases like this.