William “Bart” Davis and John Newmerzhycky, two California poker players who, in 2013, had their bankrolls confiscated during a warrantless search by Iowa state troopers, have won damages from the state after a long battle to clear their names.
The state agreed to settle the lawsuit by returning 90 percent of the funds to the players, plus $60,000 in damages.
Also this week, Iowa announced that it would be disbanding its Drug Interdiction Team, which oversees the controversial civil forfeiture policy that allowed the seizure to take place.
Davis and Newmerzhycky were driving along the Interstate 80 In April 2013, when they were pulled over by traffic cops and subjected to a search.
The officers, Justin Simmons and Eric VanderWiel, claimed that they were stopped for failing to signal as they overtook another vehicle, although the patrol car dash cam clearly showed his had not been the case.
Trumped Up Charges
Simmons and VanderWiel found $100,020 in the trunk of the car, along with a minimal amount of marijuana, around 0.001 grams, although both men held medical marijuana licenses back in California.
The cash, which represented the entirety of the players’ bankrolls, was seized under the civil forfeiture scheme, which allows law enforcement to confiscate cash and property without the need for a warrant or criminal charge.
The policy was adopted 30 years ago as part of the war on drugs, but its critics say it’s too easy to abuse and that law enforcement agents are incentivized to do so to generate revenue for their departments. Many argue it’s unconstitutional.
“They Took Everything I Owned”
Davis and Newmerzhycky had their bank accounts frozen following the incident and also faced felony charges. They spent thousands in the ensuing battle to clear their names, during which time Newmerzhycky suffered a stroke.
“They took everything that I owned at that point in my life,” Newmerzhycky later told Card Player. “My game was just starting to get on point and we decided to take that road trip. I was dealing with a lot of personal issues. My mom was battling cancer and they were trying to sell their house.
“Those Iowa cops pretty much put an end to [poker] too and ruined my life. I had people willing to back me at the time, but after this happened that was all off the table. Basically, I had to move out of my house and be homeless for a while because I couldn’t pay my mortgage.”