ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A black father and son who were never charged with a crime after authorities confiscated $17,000 in cash from them during a New Mexico traffic stop are getting back their money in a case that advocates are calling "profiling for profit."
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico announced Thursday it has reached a settlement with the U.S. government to reclaim the money on behalf of Stephen Skinner and Jonathan Breasher.
The Illinois men were left with little money and had their rental car towed after a September 2010 traffic stop in Albuquerque. Neither was charged.
According to a complaint aimed at reclaiming the money, the father and son allege that the New Mexico State Police, the Albuquerque Police Department, and Homeland Security Investigations stopped them because of their race and then seized their money without evidence of wrongdoing.
The men said they were headed to Las Vegas for a vacation when a New Mexico State Trooper pulled them over in Raton, N.M., for driving five miles over the speed limit. He issued them a written warning and then asked to search their vehicle. That's when the trooper found $16,925 in cash in their luggage that was intended for their trip. The men said they also planned to help Skinner's sister repair a newly purchased home.
The ALCU said the trooper can be heard on his belt tape recording referring to Skinner, now 60, as "boy."
While in Albuquerque, the men were pulled over again, this time by Albuquerque police for an "improper lane change." Homeland Security Investigations agents later arrived and seized the money.
"I think they stopped us because we were two black people," Skinner said in a statement provided by the ACLU. "I've never been in trouble before, I pay my taxes, worked all my life, raised my kids, tried to do what's right. I feel violated."
The men say authorities later left them stranded with no money at the Albuquerque airport. They took a train home with help from their wives.
Elizabeth Martinez, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said the office "does not condone and will not tolerate" racial profiling of any kind. She said the money was seized after a drug dog searched the vehicle and led officers to believe the money might be connected to drug trafficking.
She said Skinner and Breasher have since provided evidence that the cash was from a legitimate source.
Micah McCoy, a spokeswoman for the ALCU of New Mexico, said the men declined to file a lawsuit and opted for a "civil asset forfeiture" complaint aimed at just getting back their money.
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New Mexico is located in the southwestern region of the U.S. Inhabited by Native American populations for many centuries, New Mexico has also been part of Imperial Spain, part of Mexico, and a U.S. territory.