In light of the infamous memo released last week in Washington, detailing the questionable tactics embraced by the FBI and the DOJ to convince a FISA court to authorize surveillance on the Trump team, is it any wonder that state and local law enforcement officials might conclude that they can use extralegal means whenever “necessary?”
We can understand how they might get that impression, given some bad examples set at the federal level, but we as citizens of a free society cannot tolerate members of our justice system at any level adopting that attitude and acting on it. If not reined in and rebuked, they would soon be our masters rather than our servants.
Take, for example, former LaSalle County State's Attorney Brian Towne, who on his own initiative and with no authority, formed the first State’s Attorney Felony Enforcement (SAFE!) team seven years ago, ostensibly to intercept drug traffickers on Interstate 80 (using confiscated assets as he pleased).
Not to mention Madison County's State's Attorney Tom Gibbons, who followed Towne's lead and set up his own SAFE team three years later.
Fortunately, a trial court, an appellate court, and our state supreme court put the kibosh on these dubious drug interdiction forces.
A potential class action suit was also filed against Towne last year by drivers claiming the SAFE team confiscated as much as $2 million from motorists without filing charges against them. Towne was subsequently indicted on 17 felony counts of official misconduct and misapplication of funds.
Now two men who spent nine months each in LaSalle County jail under $1 million bond are seeking damages from Towne. Both were charged with transporting 50 bundles of marijuana each, but the means of their apprehension was unlawful and they may have a good case.
We can only hope that Brian Towne has learned his lesson and that his ongoing legal problems will discourage other law enforcement officials from taking the law into their own hands.