State returns nearly $40K police took from man at airport

Following a legal battle, the $39,500 seized from small business owner Jerry Johnson has been...
Following a legal battle, the $39,500 seized from small business owner Jerry Johnson has been returned.(Institute for Justice)
Published: Mar. 22, 2023 at 4:03 PM CDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Gray News) - A Charlotte trucking company owner has his money back after it was taken from him while at an airport in Arizona more than two years ago.

According to the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit public interest law firm, Jerry Johnson had $39,500 snatched from him by authorities at baggage claim when he was at the Phoenix airport in August 2020.

Johnson said he flew to Phoenix with the goal of purchasing a tractor-trailer for his trucking company with the cash. However, at baggage claim, he was questioned by police, and his money was seized and subjected to civil forfeiture.

An Arizona trial court ruled that he failed to prove the cash was his and, therefore, he could not contest the civil forfeiture of his money.

The Institute for Justice reports it took over Johnson’s case on appeal and in May 2022 the Arizona Court of Appeals held that the lower court’s ruling violated his right to due process. Johnson’s case was ultimately successfully appealed.

“Jerry’s case potently illustrates the injustice of civil forfeiture even when someone ultimately gets their property back,” said IJ Senior Attorney Dan Alban. “It took 31 months for Jerry to finally get his savings back while scraping together money to hire an attorney.”

Johnson said he is grateful to have his money back at the end of the day.

“It’s a blessing to finally have my savings back so that I can invest it in my business,” Johnson said. “That the government could take my money, never charge me with a crime but hold onto my savings for so long is outrageous.”

The state returned Johnson’s money after moving to dismiss the case, but it has reportedly not agreed to pay for his attorneys’ fees and interest.

The Institute for Justice said it has filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings and is continuing the fight for Johnson.

“We’re glad that the money has been returned, but Jerry still needs to be made whole,” Alban said.