Shortly after police used spike strips to end a high-speed chase on Interstate 90 last July, the owner of the car immediately began pleading his innocence to officers.
Dash camera and body camera video obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES shows Phouthong Thongvanh getting out of the passenger side with his hands up.
“I told him to stop! I was yelling at him, fighting with him in the car,” Thongvanh can be heard saying to a Worthington police officer in the body camera footage.
While officers arrested the driver and another passenger, Thongvanh, 41, did not end up facing any criminal charges.
But police told him they were still taking his 2014 Nissan Altima.
“We’re seizing it now,” Officer Mark Riley can be heard saying in the body camera video. “It’s State of Minnesota’s.”
Thongvanh later said he did not immediately understand what police were telling him.
“I thought they were just taking it, like impounding it or something,” he said. “I didn’t think they were going to keep it.”
The Nobles County Attorney filed a civil action to permanently take Thongvanh’s car through the state’s controversial forfeiture process.
It’s an example of how police in Minnesota can still seize and keep the property of people even when they are not charged with a crime, despite recent reforms to help protect “innocent owners.”
Critics say it also reinforces concerns that the practice disproportionately impacts low-income communities and people of color, especially in Nobles County, which has been repeatedly accused of violating the civil rights of minorities.
“It’s those people who are hit the hardest when their car or a small amount of money is seized from them, and that can sometimes put their lives into a tailspin,” said Dan Alban, senior attorney with the nonprofit Institute for Justice.