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Federal judge dismisses lawsuit against Lincoln officers for seizing Omaha man's car, shoes
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Federal judge dismisses lawsuit against Lincoln officers for seizing Omaha man's car, shoes

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A federal judge Thursday ruled against an Omaha man who sued Lincoln police after they seized his car, shoes and driver's license without a warrant and kept them for three months, though he never was charged with a crime.

U.S. District Judge Robert Rossiter Jr. said William Adams had failed to point to a policy that offends his constitutional rights, and the officers were entitled to qualified immunity.

Attorney Matt Catlett had argued that seizing and keeping Adams' car, Social Security card and driver's license was "outrageous" and that the police department's failure to immediately return them to Adams after they were processed for evidence was not merely conscience-shocking, but "absurd."

Rossiter disagreed, saying Catlett had failed to cite any authority in which any court had found the retention of property for investigatory reasons to be a violation of "substantive due process," or a fundamental right to be free from government interference.

Police seized the items when Adams was being investigated in connection to an armed robbery at a cash advance business in Lincoln on March 7, 2019.

Security video showed the getaway car was a dark-colored Volkswagen with in-transit stickers on the front passenger side window, custom rims, a spare tire on the front passenger's side with yellow on the rim and an air freshener hanging from the rear view mirror.

After Lincoln police put out a bulletin to alert other officers to watch for the car, Omaha Police responded saying they had spotted a similar-looking Volkswagen in front of Adams' home there.

Two Lincoln officers, Joseph Villamonte and Daniel Dufek, went there March 14, 2019, interviewed Adams and told him they were going to be towing his car to Lincoln for evidence in connection to the robbery, keeping his driver's license and Social Security card inside. They also seized the Nike shoes he was wearing.

The next day, they got a search warrant to search the car.

Over the next few months, Adams called police twice to ask when he could get his car and other property back. Adams said Dufek told him he couldn't get them back until he answered his questions.

On June 13, 2019, police told Adams he could pick up his property, two weeks after Catlett emailed an assistant city attorney on Adams' behalf and filed the federal lawsuit.

Adams had to pay $405 in towing and storage fees to get his car from Capital Towing.

Rossiter said given the similarities with Adams' car and the getaway car, seizing it without a warrant was reasonable. And, he said, although Villamonte and Dufek acted beyond their statutory authority because they were outside of their jurisdiction when they seized Adams' shoes, that wasn't unreasonable either.

Police had shoe prints left behind from one of the robbers who had jumped over a counter.

The judge said Lincoln Police kept Adams' property for only three months, a relatively brief period, during an ongoing investigation, and he dismissed the case.

On Friday, Catlett said he and Adams respectfully disagree with the court, and Adams is considering his options.

"Fortunately, my client did ultimately regain possession of his wrongfully-taken property. No matter what happens going forward, the lawsuit has already been successful to a degree because my client regained possession of his property, something he questions would have occurred without the lawsuit," he said.

No one has been charged in connection with the robbery.

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Public safety reporter

Lori Pilger is a Norfolk native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been a public safety reporter for the Journal Star since 2005.

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