The Miami-Dade Police Department was forced to return nearly $20,000 in cash to a stripper after officers illegally seized the money during a traffic stop in May.
Ras Cates, 33, and his wife, Lizmixell Batista, 20, a stripper employed at Cheetah Gentleman’s Club in Hallandale Beach, were pulled over on May 25 by officers after the couple’s car cut off a police cruiser, the Miami Herald reported.
Officers searched the couple’s car and seized six guns including three assault-style rifles, the cash, suspected marijuana oil and a few bottles of codeine cough syrup with no valid prescription. Cates and Batista were charged with “armed drug dealing among other felony charges.”
However, defense attorneys challenged the arrest after the officers bragged about the guns found during the traffic stop to local media outlets.
“It’s amazing how something as simple as a traffic stop can lead us to crack a lot of cases,” a police spokesman told WFOR-CBS4. “A lot of serial killers are behind bars because of traffic stops."
Jude Faccidomo, a defense attorney, said he found it “disturbing” that police “went on TV and engaged in incendiary speculation without knowing the facts or even acknowledging the rampant violations of my clients’ constitutional rights.”
Cates told officers he legally owned the weapons and had a valid concealed-weapons permit. Body-camera footage from the incident showed an officer never got Cates’ permission to search his vehicle’s trunk but “instead commanded defendant to pop the trunk," prosecutors wrote.
"Search of the trunk was illegal," Johnathan Nobile, a prosecutor, wrote in a memo.
It was not immediately clear who owned the marijuana oil and codeine syrup since both Cates and Batista declined to say. The police department also never had the cough syrup to a lab to check if it was codeine.
Lawyers were still attempting to get the guns back to Cates but the cash was returned to the couple. The cash was taken from Batista after officers discovered it in her purse. She told them she was on her way to the bank to deposit the money that she received from her mostly cash-only profession.
"I was supposed to go to the bank to deposit the money. We got bills to pay, sweetie," Batista told police.
However, the Miami-Dade Police Department’s legal bureau seized the money believing it was drug money and asked a civil court judge to allow the department to keep the cash. Police said Roxie, the department’s dog, alerted officers that the cash “had been in close proximity to large amounts of narcotics.”
However, Haley Heath, Batista’s co-worker, said at the hearing that her friend earned “significant cash tips” at the club.
“I felt that the glitter on the seized cash was compelling evidence, but apparently the police department disagreed," Faccidomo said.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Rodney Smith agreed “there was no probable cause for the seizure” and ordered the cash be given back to the couple.