The scent of smoked marijuana was thick as Oklahoma state trooper Joe Kimmons sifted through the trunk of the car.
In it he found a black duffle bag stuffed with fabric softener sheets — a common tool for masking the smell of drugs. He also found a large roll of trash bags — another common find in the car of a drug trafficker.
Kimmons rummaged through another duffle bag and found a white bank envelope. In the envelope was $14,000 in cash.
It was a dark, warm morning in August 2008, and minutes earlier, Kimmons had reported finding marijuana residue in the car and on the pants of an Illinois man who was riding in the car.
Drugs, cash and duffel bags — all in the same place. Kimmons thought the money had to be tied to drugs, so he seized it, according to an affidavit.
Nearly 21/2 years later, the stepfather of the man with the marijuana on his pants has been given a chance to get back the money he says wasn't tied to drugs and was his all along.
The state Court of Civil Appeals last month ruled that the stepfather deserves a day in court in which the state should have to prove the money was in fact drug money. A lower court had thrown out the stepfather's previous claim to the money, largely for procedural reasons.
The stepfather, Brooks Burr, has said he gave the money to his stepson to buy coins for him at a rare coin show in Las Vegas, court records show.
Burr, 61, is a rare coin collector and zoology professor at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.
Burr could not be reached for comment last week, but his Oklahoma City-based attorney, Chad Moody, said troopers had no good reason to take the money.
“It's literally highway robbery — that's literally what it is. They pull you over, they take your money,” Moody said. “I'm looking forward to our day in court.”
Moody said it was pure coincidence that troopers found Burr's stepson's drugs and Burr's alleged cash in the same car.
A prosecutor dismissed a felony drug money possession charge against Burr's stepson after Burr produced records showing the money was withdrawn from his bank account the day before it was seized by Kimmons.
Despite the dismissed charge, an attorney for the Department of Public Safety said the agency still believes the cash was drug money.
“Since we're claiming it is money being used for illegal purposes, we'll have to prove it in order to seize it,” said Wellon Poe, the agency's general counsel.
The traffic stop
According to an affidavit, Kimmons had pulled a white Chevrolet sedan over about 2:30 a.m. Aug. 26, 2008, on failure to use a turn signal while exiting the Turner Turnpike to get on Interstate 35.
The driver, Illinois resident Robert Shaw, then 43, seemed nervous when Kimmons brought him to his patrol car for routine questioning.
Shaw told Kimmons he was traveling through Oklahoma on his way to see friends in Arizona and gamble in Las Vegas.
Shaw then started leaning heavily on the patrol car's door. Kimmons later reported he thought it was “obvious (Shaw) wanted to exit my car and run.”