The Illinois Attorney General's office plans to review reports and recordings related to a 2012 traffic stop on Interstate 80 in Henry County during which state troopers seized $107,000 in cash from a couple who never were charged with a crime. |
The action comes in the wake of a Dispatch/Argus request that the attorney general review a state police refusal to provide the newspapers the reports.
State Police FOIA Officer Lt. Steve Lyddon asserted in refusing the request that providing the information could "obstruct a current and ongoing investigation" and inhibit the Perrys' right to a fair trial.
The newspaper's original request asked for reports and recording related to an Oct. 25, 2012, traffic stop involving Adam and Jennifer Perry, a Massachusetts couple stopped for speeding, and of their interrogation.
State police officers searched the couple's vehicle that day and found $107,000 in cash, which was seized under the presumption the funds were linked to drugs, though none were found.
The couple never were charged with any crime, but the federal government filed suit seeking the forfeiture of the money unless the Perrys can prove they obtained it legally.
The two are fighting the suit, acting as their own attorney because, they said in court filings, they couldn't afford to hire one because the government had taken their money.
Among the assertions contained in the couple's answer to the forfeiture complaint is that Mr. Perry was unlawfully interrogated after the traffic stop, including being "belted down in a cold dark wet storage room and questioned for nine hours."
After the state police's June 26 denial of the Dispatch's information request, the newspaper appealed, asking Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office to review the matter.
In its appeal, the newspaper argued disclosure of the reports would have no bearing on a criminal case, because no charges were filed, and that the newspaper should be allowed access to documents that would be made available to attorneys in the civil case.
A letter dated July 25 and signed by Assistant Attorney General Christopher Boggs announced the attorney general's office's public access bureau had agreed to look into the case. It requested that the state police turn over unredacted copies of the requested information.
"We have determined that further inquiry into this matter is necessary to confirm that ISP has complied with its obligations under FOIA," the letter said. It also ordered the ISP to include a "detailed explanation" for why the original request was denied.
Meanwhile, the forfeiture case remains pending. Earlier in the case, federal prosecutors sought to have the Perrys answer to a complaint tossed out unless the couple answered interrogatories, or questions related to the seized funds.
Judge Sara Darrow tentatively agreed with prosecutors on June 9 but gave the couple a grace period of 14 days to file answers.
There were no further filings, the court docket shows, until July 8, when a motion was filed by the Perrys requesting the return of their money, vehicle, clothes and personal possessions -- including a wedding ring -- which they claimed had been seized unjustly.
The couple said they had not been issued so much as a speeding ticket in the case and claimed "no evidence has been submitted of any wrong-doing."
The case would be two years old in October, the couple noted. "That amount of time is more than sufficient for any legitimacy of this case to be presented by state police or the district attorney, but both have failed to do so," they wrote.
In a July 15 response, prosecutors argued "the time to challenge forfeiture of the defendant property has long expired" and claimed the Perrys still had not filed answers to the interrogatories, which were due no later than June 22.
The judge has not ruled on the recent filings, and no court date has been set.