PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The FBI has succeeded in getting most of a Vancouver man’s lawsuit thrown out after he sued to get back more than $120,000 agents seized from him at Portland International Airport.
He still is allowed to sue the agents for accusations they violated his constitutional rights.
The case began on April 11, 2018. Steven Williams, 37, was sitting in his seat waiting for his plane to push back from the terminal at PDX for a flight to Phoenix when FBI agents boarded the jet and ordered him to go with them.
Back in the terminal, surrounded by other travelers, the federal lawsuit says three agents asked him to explain why he was carrying $121,940 cash in a Louis Vuitton duffle bag. Agents seized the cash and questioned whether Williams was involved in the illegal drug trade.
Williams has still never been charged with a crime 18 months later but a federal judge in Portland agreed with government lawyers that Williams simply waited too long to ask for the money back.
“Plaintiff alleges an ‘extraordinary circumstance stood in his way’ of timely filing a … claim because he ‘feared retaliation by the FBI … due to the threats that the FBI would ‘raid his home,’ ‘destroy his
property,’ and publicly humiliate him if he sought the return of his money,” summarized Judge Anna Brown. “Plaintiff, however, does not allege or present any evidence that he was ‘pursing his rights diligently’ in the 91 days between the seizure and the date on which he was required to file a … claim.”
“This is the result we expected,” Williams’ attorney Bill Brandt said Thursday. “It’s no bar to proceeding ahead to getting his money back.”
Brandt said while his client did not file a claim to get his money back within the time limit required by law, the judge ruled they can continue their lawsuit against the three FBI Agents over whether they violated his civil rights by threatening and intimidating him.
Brandt said his client is in the car business and was taking the money to Arizona to purchase a vehicle.
“It’s not illegal to have cash,” Brandt told KOIN 6 after he filed the lawsuit in March. “They just took the money from him and didn’t charge him with a crime.”
Williams first drew the suspicion of TSA agents when they spotted the cash in his luggage while going through security. They let him go on to his gate but contacted the FBI office in Portland.
Williams said the agents threatened to “drag him through the airport” and later “raid his home” if he didn’t let them search his phone and belongings. He thought he didn’t have a choice, so he handed over his phone. The lawsuit claims the agents searched through years worth of texts, finding messages from seven years ago that they believed were related to selling cannabis. He told them the texts and cash were not related to any criminal activity. The FBI eventually let Williams go.
In a response to Williams’ lawsuit, Assistant United States Attorney Kevin Danielson wrote Williams signed for a certified letter on June 25, 2018, telling him of the deadline to file a claim to get his money back but Williams and his lawyer did not file a claim for the cash until November.
“They scared the hell out of him,” said Brandt in March. “He was told his life would be miserable if he contested any of this.”
Williams and his lawyer asked the FBI for an additional $50,000 plus interest for “substantial emotional distress.”
Brandt said they can still get his money back if a jury believes Williams’ civil rights were violated and he suffered emotional distress.