HINTON — A district attorney is returning funds in three more cases where his drug task force took money from travelers on Interstate 40.
Two of the three cases involved stops where money was seized, but no one was arrested. A total of $21,227 is being returned in the three cases.
“I was really, really very scared,” said Julius S. Crooks, 28, who is getting back $7,500 and a semi-automatic rifle.
He was stopped in January on the way home to California from visiting family in Alabama. He was not arrested.
District Attorney Jason Hicks agreed Thursday to return the funds in the three cases, dropping efforts to have the money forfeited to law enforcement use. He had alleged cash found in the stops was drug money.
Prosecutors earlier dropped criminal cases arising from other drug stops. They also returned nearly $17,000 and a vehicle seized in those stops.
Hicks is under fire for hiring a private company, Desert Snow LLC, to assist in his drug interdiction effort.
After hiring the Guthrie company in January, his task force seized more than $1 million in the stops, mostly along a 21-mile stretch of I-40 in Caddo County. Hicks agreed to pay the company 25 percent of all forfeited proceeds from stops involving its trainers.
Critics said the arrangement led to instances where money was seized from cars for trumped-up reasons.
“The Constitution was suspended in Caddo County,” said Oklahoma City attorney Mark Myles, who represented Crooks.
Hicks halted his drug interdiction effort immediately after a judge became upset with it July 2.
“I'm shocked,” the judge said after learning Desert Snow's owner pulled over a pregnant woman and questioned her, even though he is not a state-certified law enforcement officer.
‘I believe I have done everything right'
Hicks is the district attorney in Caddo, Grady, Jefferson and Stephens counties. “I believe I have done everything right,” he told The Oklahoman July 18.
Hicks declined Friday to explain why he is returning money in the three latest cases.
“I've taken the position that I'm not going to comment on anything else until … we've had the opportunity to review everything,” Hicks said.
Hicks said he does not plan to return nearly $850,000 seized in one stop in May. No one was arrested in that stop.
“I hope that people don't have the impression that the guys from Desert Snow were up on the highway running around by themselves, because they weren't,” he said.
He said an investigator from his task force “was right there with them the entire time.”
About the stop
The first traffic stop that led to money being seized was the one involving Crooks.
The Oklahoma attorney general's office is investigating Crooks' claim that the task force seized $7,900 from him. Crooks on Friday provided The Oklahoman a photo of a receipt showing $7,900 in $20 bills was taken.
Prosecutors reported the task force took $7,500.
Under review in the attorney general's investigation is whether someone stole $400 after the stop or whether the money was miscounted.
Crooks said he, a cousin and a friend were traveling in a new rental car, with a paper plate, when they were pulled over in Oklahoma, twice within five minutes.
Participating in the second stop was a Desert Snow employee named Jason Henderson. Crooks said an officer Henderson was the one who questioned them.
“He was like, ‘You all are riding down one of the most notorious drug highways … with no plates … So do you have … in the car large amounts of U.S. currency?' I told them, ‘Yes, I have money.' … As soon as they learned I had money, they were so persistent in checking our vehicle,” Crooks recalled. “You should have seen how their eyes lit up.”
Crooks, a security guard, said an uncle loaned him the money to buy a car. He said he bought the rifle on impulse while shopping with his father, a hunter. He said both the money and the rifle, which was disassembled, were in a bag in the back of the car.
“They tore our whole car up. … They just like violated all our stuff. They stepped on our food, poured out our drinks, everything. It was just like very rude,” Crooks said. “It was just crazy, like we were real live drug dealers. And I've never been in trouble with any of that.”
Prosecutors alleged traces of marijuana were in the bag with the money. Crooks disputes that, saying he would have been put in jail if drugs were found.
Crooks said he tried to ask questions about why the money was taken. He said the district attorney's chief investigator, Lewis Garrison, “got mad … put his finger in my face and said, ‘You better get the hell off my freeway and right now!'”
He said he went to the Caddo County courthouse to try to get his money back the next morning and got in another confrontation with Garrison.