News Story

Wayne Prosecutor Endorsed By Attorney General Nessel Seized Poor Peoples' Cars

Took more than 2,600 cars over two years in aggressive sting operation

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has endorsed the reelection of Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy. The prosecutor faces a Democratic challenger in the August primary election, with the winner to appear on county ballots in the Nov. 3, 2020, general election.

In a June 7 Facebook post, Nessel wrote, “Kym is a zealous advocate for victims, while advocating for due process for those who stand accused.”

But that claim isn’t supported by a program overseen by Worthy’s office, which seizes vehicles from mostly low-income people. The impact of the program falls mainly on Detroit residents who lose their vehicle through it, usually without ever being charged with a crime.

In 2017 and 2018, Wayne County seized more than 2,600 vehicles. Over those two years, it made $1.24 million this way.

Here are some previously reported examples of how this worked.

In 2016, a Detroit man approached a city undercover police officer who was posing as a prostitute. The man asked her for sex.

She told him it would cost $25.

“I don’t wanna pay that much, that’s a little high,” the man said, according to the police report. “I’ll pass for now unless you go lower in your prices.”

The undercover officer said, “Thanks anyways.”

The officer then alerted an awaiting patrol car, and the man was stopped by police for soliciting a prostitute.

The police impounded his 1996 Ford Bronco.

When individuals have their vehicle seized in Wayne County, they have three options.

They can contest the seizure in court; they can turn over the vehicle title (and vehicle) to the county, or they can pay $900 to settle the case. The Detroit man in this case did not pay $900 or contest the forfeiture, so the county took the Bronco.

In at least two separate instances in 2017, police seized cars after the occupant allegedly purchased marijuana from a Detroit dispensary without having a medical marijuana card. Police were staking out the dispensary.

One individual had purchased $10 worth of marijuana and the other bought $15. Both lost their vehicle. The details were in police reports obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Neither individual was ever charged with a crime.

Worthy’s office has defended the program, which it calls Operation Push-Off.

The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office describes it this way:

“The Asset Forfeiture Unit also operates a sub-unit: the Vehicle Seizure Unit. The Vehicle Seizure Unit operates a program designed to discourage the use of vehicles for either 1) The purchase of controlled substances, known as the PUSH-OFF programs, and 2) to solicit prostitutes, known as the OTE program. Police agencies located within Wayne County seize vehicles used or attempted to be used for these illegal purposes and cooperate with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office in processing the cases in a combined effort to successfully clean the streets from those who participate in these vices in Wayne County.”