(Trends Wide) — A Texas sheriff is under investigation for allegedly seizing money from undocumented immigrants during traffic stops.
Last month, the Texas Rangers and the Texas Attorney General’s office carried out search warrants as part of an ongoing investigation into Real County Sheriff Nathan Johnson, according to the press secretary for the Texas Department of Public Safety. Ericka Miller. Real County is about 100 miles from the US-Mexico border.
The warrants, obtained by the Texas Tribune, include details of trafficking points where money was taken from undocumented immigrants. Computers and electronic communication and digital storage devices are among the items listed for seizure under the warrant, according to records initially reported by the Texas Tribune.
Johnson has not been charged. The Texas attorney general’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Johnson, who has served as sheriff since 2017, acknowledged the investigation in a December Facebook post, saying, “We really don’t know who or what prompted the Ranger Service and Attorney General’s Office investigation, but neither I nor my deputies We have been arrested and will continue to serve faithfully as your Sheriff’s Office day in and day out.”
Johnson could not be reached for comment.
Immigration has been a politically contentious issue in Texas, where Republican Governor Greg Abbott has repeatedly clashed with the Biden administration over his handling of the US-Mexico border.
Law enforcement can seize cash and property if they are believed to be linked to criminal activity, but evidence should confirm this at the time of seizure, according to Erin Thorn Vela, senior attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project.
“Being undocumented and having money in your possession is not a crime,” said Thorn Vela.
At a May 2021 traffic stop, for example, Johnson ordered his agents to seize a 2008 Toyota Tundra pickup truck and money from undocumented immigrants, according to the court order.
“Sheriff Nathan Johnson acknowledges that the seized currency will be filed as abandoned cash and deposited in the Royal County General Fund after a disposition order is obtained,” the order reads. Johnson said he will try to identify the car’s registered owners and notify them to claim it within 30 days, after which it will be considered abandoned, according to the court order.
The warrants, obtained by the Tribune, also cite an October traffic stop where $2,742 was seized from undocumented immigrants, one of whom was arrested and two others turned over to US Border Patrol. report of a suspicious vehicle in the area with no insurance, the order says.
Investigating agent Ricardo Guajardo interviewed Johnson last November about the money seized in October and Johnson stated that “the money and the vehicles are being held as evidence for traffic offenses.”
Guajardo concluded, according to the records: “I believe that Nathan Todd Johnson is committing serious crimes of theft by a public servant, abuse of official capacity and other possible criminal offenses.”