Mooresville loses appeal, must return nearly $17K found in man’s rental car

MOORESVILLE, N.C. — The Town of Mooresville and the Mooresville Police Department have lost an appeal and will have to return nearly $17,000 that was seized from a man’s rental car.

Jermaine Sanders said Mooresville police searched the car without his permission. During the search, officers found half an ounce of marijuana and nearly $17,000 in cash.

When a judge told police to return the cash, the police department appealed.

[View the civil complaint here]

Sanders’ attorney told Channel 9 that a judge dismissed that appeal on Monday. The police department has seven days to return the money or arrest warrants will be issued.

The town told Channel 9 on Tuesday that it plans to appeal, saying, “The town’s police officers acted appropriately and in accordance with the law, and this will be established both in federal court and when the court of appeals reviews these proceedings.”

Earlier this year, the Town of Mooresville and the Mooresville Police Department filed the appeal after a judge held them in contempt of court, giving the agencies days to return nearly $17,000 seized during an investigation.

Judge Christine Underwood held up a previous court ruling that the $16,761 taken from Sanders’ car on Nov. 16 needed to be returned, and that the police department “willfully did not comply” with that order, placing the department and Mooresville’s government in contempt.

Sanders was at a motel in Mooresville when he walked out and found police searching his rental car. He said that was done without his permission.

Sanders’s attorney cried foul two days later.

Police found half an ounce of marijuana and $16,761 in cash, according to court documents. They drew up an arrest warrant for Sanders on a misdemeanor charge and turned the money over to federal agents.

“He believes that it’s, literally, highway robbery that they took his money for no reason,” attorney Ashley Cannon said.

Cannon said that police had no evidence that the money was involved in criminal activity.

On Nov. 24, a judge ordered the Mooresville Police Department to return the cash, according to court documents. But more than two months later, they still hadn’t. On Jan. 26, another judge called that inexcusable and ordered police back to court to see why they should not be held in contempt. At the hearing, Underwood ordered police to return the cash or she would issue warrants to arrest those responsible.

Cannon said, “They had 77 days to come into compliance with it, and they decided they were going to stick their noses up in the air and not comply with it.”

Underwood told Channel 9′s partners at the Mooresville Tribune that she would give Mooresville seven business days to return the money. She also said she would not be afraid to jail the board of commissioners, the chief of police, or anyone else who would be considered responsible for returning the money to Sanders, but that would be something used as a last resort if the town did not comply.

Statement from the town of Mooresville:

The Town of Mooresville is disappointed with the Court’s recent decision in the Sanders case. We believe the seizure by our police department was lawfully executed and the funds rightfully turned over to the US Department of Homeland Security at their directive, pursuant to established federal law. The Town did file an appeal yesterday, which by law stays enforcement of the order until the Court of Appeals reviews the merits of this case. The Town does not plan to further comment at this time while an active criminal case and this civil matter is ongoing.