A judge has ordered that Miami-Dade Police Department return $19,934 in cash seized from LizMixell Batista. It was taken from her when police pulled over her husband’s car in the West Little River neighborhood in Miami.
On May 25, Ras Cates cut off a police patrol car, prompting police to pull him over. On examining his vehicle, officers found three rifles and three handguns as well as liquids suspected to be codeine and marijuana oil. Ras’ wife, LizMixell, was in the passenger seat. An officer found the $19,934 in her purse. They seized the cash, weapons, and liquids.
Police charged Ras and LizMixell with armed drug dealing.
Miami-Dade police then appeared on CBS Miami in an exclusive news story where they bragged about the “arsenal or weapons, cash, and illegal drugs” they had found. As a police spokesperson said, “It’s amazing how something as simple as a traffic stop can lead us to crack a lot of cases. … A lot of serial killers are behind bars because of traffic stops.”
Ras and LizMixell hired a lawyer to fight their case. As Ras had explained to the police officer when they were pulled over, he owned the firearms legally. He also possessed a valid concealed carry permit.
As prosecutor Jonathan Nobile explained, the “search of the trunk was illegal.” Footage from an officer’s body camera showed that, although the police were polite, they never obtained permission to search the trunk. Instead, they “commanded” Ras to open it.
Although law enforcement claimed the liquids were marijuana oil and codeine syrup, they had not been taken for testing at a forensics lab. Whether the liquids were, in fact, illegal drugs is unclear.
Jude Faccidomo, an attorney for the defense, said, “What is most disturbing is that immediately following the arrest, the department went on TV and engaged in incendiary speculation without knowing the facts or even acknowledging the rampant violations of my clients’ constitutional rights.”
Once it had been shown that Ras had not given police permission to search the trunk, prosecutors dropped charges against the couple. Despite this, law enforcement did not want to give LizMixell her cash back. Arguing it may be drug money, police began civil asset forfeiture proceedings to keep it. According to civil asset forfeiture law, police can keep seized cash or property without having to bring criminal charges against the owner.
Body-camera footage showed that LizMixell had attempted to explain why she was legitimately carrying so much cash on her. She works as a stripper at the Cheetah Gentleman’s Club in Hallandale Beach, a cash-only job. At the hearing, Haley Heath, who also works at the Cheetah Club, testified that “significant cash tips” were common for strippers at the club.
I felt that the glitter on the seized cash was compelling evidence,” said Faccidomo, “but apparently the police department disagreed.”
Circuit Judge Rodney Smith found there was no probable cause for the seizure and ordered the cash be returned to LizMixell. Additionally, the police department will pay more than $3,000 in legal fees to the couple’s lawyers.
Lawyers for Ras are now attempting to get the police to give him his guns back.
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