'To protect ... not exploit.' Ex-cop gets 3 years for traffic-stop thefts.

A former Alabama police officer confessed that he and a partner stole money from motorists they pulled over under the guise of traffic stops. He was sentenced to 3 years in prison and ordered to pay restitution.

A former police officer in Fort Deposit, Ala., was sentenced Tuesday to three years in prison after admitting that he and a partner stole money from motorists they pulled over during traffic stops on an interstate highway in 2009.

Carlos Tyson Bennett was also ordered to pay $500 in restitution to his victims and serve two years of supervised release after his prison term.

Mr. Bennett’s partner, Jessie Alan Fuller, received the same 37-month prison sentence last year after he pleaded guilty to involvement in the thefts.

According to court documents, both men conspired to stop motorists under the guise of a traffic violation. While searching the motorists, the officers took a portion of their money, while returning most of it.

All four thefts took place in June 2009. Three involved Hispanic drivers, and the fourth was Asian, according to court documents.

After one victim complained to the police, the officers placed six $20 bills in a plastic evidence bag and agreed to tell investigating officers that the money had been found blowing on the highway after a truck drove past during the traffic stop.

The story was false.

“Police officers are here to protect the public, not exploit the public,” US Attorney George Beck said in a statement.

“When law enforcement officers take advantage of people they are supposed to be serving, they must be punished,” he said. “This case shows that my office will continue to do everything under law to protect the public from criminals, even when the criminal is a law enforcement officer.”

The officers stole $200 from an Hispanic man driving a white van on Interstate 65. They also pulled over an Asian man driving a white van and took two $100 bills from two stacks of cash in his vehicle.

Court documents say they took six $20 bills from another Hispanic man during an I-65 stop, and later the same day took $100 from cash from the pocket of another Hispanic man pulled over on I-65.    

The officer agreed to plead guilty to five counts of having violated the Fourth Amendment right of motorists to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. As part of a plea deal, prosecutors agreed to drop obstruction of justice charges against Bennett.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Bennett might have faced nearly four years in prison. Instead, the judge sentenced him at the low end of the suggested sentencing range.

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