Two poker players from California are fighting a legal battle against Iowa police, saying that troopers with the Iowa State Patrol illegally took over $100,000 from them after a routine traffic stop. The case is similar to others in Iowa, where many people are questioning the tactics of state troopers and the searches they conduct on motorists and their vehicles.
Professional poker players William “Bart” Davis and John Newmerzhycky were driving through Iowa last April, after playing in a World Series of Poker Circuit event in Illinois, when they were pulled over by state troopers. It’s unclear why the stop took place, though Davis and Newmerzhycky believe that they were targeted because of their out-of-state license plates (the two were in a rented Nissan from Nevada).
A trooper followed the car for over 10 minutes before pulling them over, claiming that Newmerzhycky, who was driving the car, failed to signal when passing another vehicle. Trooper Justin Simmons nearly let the pair off with a warning, but then asked whether they had any drugs or cash in the car. They answered no, but Simmons brought in a dog to help search the vehicle.
That search ultimately turned up the $100,000 the duo had in their vehicle. In addition, the trooper found a marijuana grinder, allegedly with a small amount of the drug in it. The two men were charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, and the cash was seized. While the police initially attempted to hold on to that money, legal action eventually helped Davis and Newmerzhycky recover about $90,000 of it, minus significant legal costs and attorney fees.
In a new lawsuit filed last week in federal district court, however, the poker players are saying that they were unfairly targeted by police, likely because of their out-of-state plates.
“There is absolutely nothing illegal or uncommon about people driving through the United States with out-of-state plates,” said Glen Downey, the lawyer representing the poker players in the case. “There’s nothing illegal about carrying cash, and yet law enforcement begins to treat individuals who are carrying cash as if they are criminals.”
According to a police report, the state trooper who pulled the men over said he wasn’t aware why their car had been flagged, or if they were suspected of any criminal activity. Furthermore, the two men are now also claiming that the dash cam on Simmons’ patrol car shows that Newmerzhycky had used his turn signal in the incident that was purportedly used to justify pulling their car over.
“If you sit down and you watch the video, you can see very clearly that they signaled,” said Benjamin Okin, a lawyer who represented Newmerzhycky in California. “If you have a bad stop, then anything that flows from that is gone.”
Both Newmerzhycky and Davis were charged with felonies in California after searches of their homes turned up marijuana. However, the charges were eventually dropped.
In some recent cases, Iowa judges have found that state troopers have been overreaching their authority in cases where they had no reasons to suspect criminal activity. In one case last year, the Iowa Court of Appeals ruled that police could not use nervousness by a driver who was being stopped as evidence of criminal activity, and that out-of-state plates on their own could also not be considered suspicious.